You see them in a lot of urban spaces nowadays. Lush and verdant, these facades invoke memories of ivy crawling and spider webbing across the sides of your family home. They’re a slice of wilderness in the heart of the city, a splash of viridian in the concrete canyons of Makati, Taguig, and Quezon City. You think of sustainable architecture, and this vision immediately comes to mind.
These structures are unpretentiously known as ‘green walls.’ A green wall is a wall partially or completely covered with greenery that includes a growing medium, such as soil or a substrate. To preserve freshness, most feature an integrated water delivery system. A testament to modern sustainable engineering, green walls pull double duty as decoration and temperature regulator.
The Podium green wall is the largest constructive undertaking of its kind in the Philippines. To mark the revitalization of a well traveled and established mall, the Podium decided to opt out of the gray drabness that characterizes most malls in the city. Thus, the green wall was born. Comprising of 65,000 separate plants across 2,700 square meters, the green wall immediately draws your eye. It’s as if the forest has reclaimed a spot in Ortigas. Varying hues of green and purple create a quilt of nature’s beauty to draw the eyes of motorists and pedestrians. Of course, there are explicit considerations to accomplish such a feat. And there was one man who made this vertical garden possible. His name is Architect Rowland Agullana of Cubesystem/Green Cube.
An architect by trade, but a landscape designer by experience, Arch. Rowland is a man who understands the relationship between the natural and artificial. Fresh from architecture school, he was mentored by the esteemed landscape architect Efren Aurelio. Despite his credentials, he is still a stickler for the fine print. During our interview, Arch. Rowland attests he is not a landscape architect, “Essentially, I cannot design landscape, so now what I do is more of construction.” Having worked a myriad of construction projects in Singapore, Arch. Rowland’s oeuvre runs the gamut from landscape master planning to residential condominiums. His stint in Singapore—a place he describes as the “hub for sustainable architecture”— helped him discover his calling. Arch. Rowland recalls constructing his first green wall and green. “We had some successes, and we had some failures, but afterwards, we perfected our system.” He now brings his system to the Philippines in an effort to minimize the footprint of our building stock.
You Got a Real Solution
Arch. Rowland runs me through the highlights of constructing the Podium green wall, focusing on certain challenges and the design solutions he and his team have come up with. The first was providing that many plants. 65,000 is a whole lot of plants. Most nurseries don’t carry that many, so Cubesystem had to paint their thumbs green and cultivate that number themselves. “We had to grow them by the thousand, by hand.” Arch. Rowland shares. To fulfill the needs of the client and to closely curate the quality and health of the green wall components, Cubesystem keeps an offsite nursing facility to propagate the flora that they need.
Instead of soil, the green wall uses a substitute composed of peat moss, pumice stone, coco peat, and recycled coffee grounds. “You can actually use coffee grounds for 20% of the plant media.” Arch. Rowland has done his research: as coffee grounds decompose, they release nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and other minerals that support plant growth. For a lot of cafes, used coffee grounds are just another bag in their biodegradable garbage pile. For plants, however, they are essentially a superfood. Another concern was the structural system. The entire irrigation grid is automated and can function at the tap of a smartphone screen. When more area-specific care is required, like pruning or rearrangement, windows allow access for more delicate work. To ensure the safety of mallgoers and pedestrians, Arch. Rowland with his team of engineers had to compute the structural design to determine the best structural solution. “One square meter is 60 kilos,” he shared, stating the necessity of a sturdy and fool-proof structural make-up.
But the most difficult problem he and his team faced was the market’s acceptability. While green walls are still new and exciting in this country, many contractors are still feeling out the steps. Arch. Rowland insists that a willingness to learn is integral, “You can’t just buy plants somewhere and stick them on a wall.
Installing a green wall has numerous benefits. Aside from the overall aesthetic effect, the photosynthesis from the multitude of plants can produce enough oxygen for 17 people every 24 hours. The green wall can reduce ambient temperature, thus reducing the costs and carbon footprint of air-conditioning. It also reduces the ‘heat island effect’, a phenomenon caused by light and heat bouncing off the glass windows of skyscrapers. The ‘heat island’ is responsible for warm days and even hotter nights due to the walls retaining the morning heat. Green walls absorb the heat, greatly minimizing the impact of this effect. The foliage blocks most of the noise pollution from the honking cars outside.
THE PODIUM AT ORTIGAS
When designers dreams of having an indoor or outdoor greenwall that has site limitations whether
there’s not enough sunlight, no water & electrical supply, budget constraints, we give them a greenwall that has very
minimal maintenance and even weather tested for outdoor use. Artificial greenwalls serves as a compliment to nature, it is not created to replace nature. It gives the same “BIOPHILIA” as natural greenwall would.
ARTIFICIAL GREENWALL – supply & installation of artificial potted plants
SCAPE AT MACAPAGAL
ARTIFICIAL GREENWALL – supply & installation of artificial greenwall
CLINIC AT PAGADIAN CITY
– supply & installation of artificial plants at signage
COVENT GARDEN SHOWROOM
ARTIFICIAL GREENWALL – supply & installation of artificial greenwall
SHANGRI-LA MALL EDSA
ARTIFICIAL GREENWALL (top) – supply & installation of artificial plants at planter box
GREENWALL – revamping of existing outdoor landscape, supply and installation of shrubs
ARTIFICIAL GREENWALL – supply and installation of artificial greenwall, the largest installation of artificial greenwall in the Philippines.
GREENWALL (top) – supply of pots, autoirrigation system and plant medias.
GREENWALL – supply and installation of pots, plant media and shrubs.
MARRIOTT HOTEL MANILA
GREENWALL – supply and installation of pots, autoirrigation system, plant media and shrubs.
CHANGI AIRPORT T4 SINGAPORE
GREENWALL – done our urban greenery partner Uniseal Singapore.
We All Want to Change the World
Green walls are one of the more recognizable examples of the sustainable architecture movement. But what exactly is sustainable architecture? One can argue it’s the art of retrofitting plants on a roof to promote better air circulation and insulation. Or maybe the science of aligning your building just at the right angle to catch the light as a way to minimize lighting costs. According to Arch. Rowland, however, sustainable architecture is much more than simply concessions to be kinder to the environment.
“Sustainability’s meaning is very deep. In simple terms, it’s building something in which nature will not be compromised.” It’s
simple, but not easy. The very definition of sustainability completely opposes the practice of architecture, where nature has to frequently yield to cheap and environmentally harmful building decisions. To ease this dissonance, Arch. Rowland insists that sustainability should be more than a trend. “It should be a part of the system. Just because it’s popular nowadays, we should ask why are we even doing this? What is the purpose of this? Is this just aesthetics?” To fully illustrate the extent of his environmental advocacy, Arch. Rowland was armed with graphs, presentations, and the kind of confident rhetoric reserved for the truly passionate. “Architects have a critical role in preventing climate change. According to the 2007 McKinsey report, the cheapest way that could impact climate change is through the building industry.” Since the industrial revolution, carbon emissions been ratcheting upwards instead of going through previously recorded warming-cooling seasons. Arch. Rowland scoffs at the recent crop of climate change skeptics. In the face of overwhelming statistics and massive shifts in weather patterns, there should be no doubt: climate change is real, and we as a people need to do something about it before it’s too late.
According to the report Arch. Rowland cited, the largest contributor to climate change is carbon fuel emissions. This should not come as a surprise even to the most rabid of skeptics—smoke from cars and other industries are the biggest contributors to climate change. However, abatement of carbon emissions beyond “business as usual” shows that building insulation are measures that can best improve energy efficiency. But if you stop and think about it, it makes a brutalist sort of sense. Buildings utilize numerous air-conditioning systems to cope with the sweltering heat, contributing to massive carbon emissions. These, in turn, play a factor in the greenhouse effect, which raises ambient temperate significantly and further necessitates the need for air-conditioning. It’s a tragic cycle, but Arch. Rowland believes that green walls and similar sustainable movements such as rainwater-harvesting, green roofs, and recycled materials can break that, “Architects must be educated. [Sustainable architecture] should be put into the system.”
But sustainable architecture cannot be truly ‘sustained’ without government intervention, according to Arch. Rowland. He described Singapore’s massive push towards green architecture, “[The Singaporean government] will subsidize for half of your total expenses. And they will give you tax incentives.” Since this kind of architectural crusade is still fairly new on our shores, Arch. Rowland hopes that when the government does its part, all the architecture firms will follow. “It has to be compulsory.” Arch. Rowland shares his dream for Manila to be a garden city, flourishing with flora and bustling with progress. He understands the pursuit of a better world is bigger than himself, “Eventually, if I’m going to die, I want my legacy to be pushing the boundaries of green architecture. This green wall [I’m building] will last longer than my life if it’s fully automated. I will pass this on to next generations.”
GREENWALL – the 1st of its kind, a medley of real plants, preserved moss, artificial plants and artificial moss.
It’s Gonna Be Alright
For Arch. Rowland and Cubesystem, the Podium green wall is an important step towards their dream of a truly sustainable Philippines. Arch. Rowland has his sights trained on bigger game: city planning. “I’m working on bigger developments. It’s hard to bring green roofs, green walls, and other sustainable items, because most of the buildings are already built.” With Arch. Rowland at the helm, one can imagine how much the skyline and cloud cover of Manila will change. “If we can have all of these
items (i.e. rainwater harvesting for irrigation, recycled paper to prevent flooding, reclaimed wood for construction) at the beginning of the development phase of a bigger city—like Clark Green City—then they will be even more fruitful. Because you can use them to benefit the city.”
Sustainable architecture should not be the future of architecture—it must be the present. Preserving the beauty and habitability of our Earth must be our top priority. The mission of Arch. Rowland and Cubesystem is more than just a reiteration of their goals, it is a clarion call. Through Cubesystem’s structural solutions and Arch. Rowland’s educating, they hope to spark a revolution of environmental accountability in the architectural world. For them, sustainability is more than just a movement, it’s a state of mind.
Aside from greenwalls, CUBESYSTEM also revolutionize the way of housing indoor and outdoor plants through sculptural designer planters which carries a story of each specific project. Some designs are complex but complimentary to each space, sophisticated in form, contemporary or very clean modern lines contrasting with the soft lush green and elegant textures of the selected plants.
-design and build of indoor planters with real plants
condominium in Makati
OZEN RESORT, MALDIVES
MASTERPLAN – The design of the resort uses plants that are available within the region to help reduce Carbon Footprint.
WORDS: John Duanan