Jul 262013

The thief Prometheus stole fire from the gods and presented it to mankind, and as his penalty for giving us civilisation, Zeus had him summarily tied to a rock and had his liver eaten daily by an eagle. Raw. And his liver grew back so the eagle could continue its feast.

So goes the ancient Greek myth anyway. Having received fire, we brought it first into our caves and then houses and it kept us warm and helped to feed us. In short, we depend on and need fire to survive. And we still celebrate it by enshrining it in our houses, in hearths. Of course hearths now have a more generalised meaning as a homeplace or household.

Winter fire and a glass of red

Cold winters, warm fire and a glass of red are common in Bowral

Evidence of pre-historic man-made fires are in evidence on all five continents but luckily the technology of fireplaces has improved such that the toxic smoke exits the building far more effectively. Chimneys were invented around the 11th century in Europe but being expensive to build and maintain didn’t go into general use until much later.

Eventually the fireplace received more decorative features and began to become more widespread. In the Renaissance, architects designed fireplaces, most notably Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren who integrated the look of fireplaces into the home.  Further significant developments of the fireplace included the hood and chimney, the raising of the grate which improved airflow and venting, as well as materials and design.

It has come to the stage that fireplaces are the central part of the house again and are driven primarily by aesthetic considerations. Now the choices are quite surreal with electric, ethanol, gas or traditional wood fires predominant. Naturally each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Minimalist design has eroded the traditional decoration around the fireplace but with the additional leap in technology so has the efficiency.

Today, some fireplaces equipped with windows and a cleaner burn can get as high as 80% efficient and only need one or two firings a day to get the room to a constant room temperature. That’s a far cry from the 15% efficiency in standard construction. Fires can also be controlled by smarthouse systems and controlled remotely by your phone or tablet.

There is not much that can compare to having a warm wood fire in the middle of winter. Now we can lounge by a warm efficient fire in the depths of winter, drink a glass of wine and think of the Titan Prometheus and toast he and his liver in good health.

vertical gardens

 architecture, Bowral, Green, Southern Highlands  Comments Off on vertical gardens
Apr 292013

Green walls, or vertical gardens, are vertical faces of buildings or other structures that integrate vegetation to its surface either in whole or part. They are an interesting way to maximise greenery in tight urban spaces and has been often used in large projects as well as finding a home in smaller commercial projects.

The greening process has certainly breathed a new aesthetic into buildings as varied as houses to work environments. And by “new” we mean new if that concept ignores the previous 2,600 years. One of the original 7 wonders of the world – the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – in 600 BC is the earliest known example of a green wall. Today’s vertical gardens even use an irrigation concept similar to that of the then-King Nebuchadnezzar II. As far as can be ascertained, the modern version using hydroponics was invented by Stanley Hart White  in 1938 and not being ‘un-capitalistic’ he even patented the original green wall!

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Green walls have been called vertical gardens, biowalls, or VCW V (vertical vegetated complex walls). Fundamentally though they are all the same thing. They are a way of maximising the sustainability of the planet and reducing the energy load on buildings.

There are two main classes of vertical gardens: green façades and living walls. Green façades are made up of climbing plants either growing directly on a wall or on specially designed supporting structures. The plant shoot system grows up the side of the building while being rooted in the ground. A living wall is comprised with modular panels or containers, often of stainless steel, as well as geotextiles, irrigation systems, a growing medium and vegetation.

A vertical garden on the outside of a building

A vertical garden on the outside

In offices and other commercial environments, for green wall to be installed successfully requires extensive irrigation systems. Sometimes they are attached to the air-return of the ventilation system to be used for air  filtration. Vertical gardens are found most often in urban environments where the biowalls reduce the internal temperatures of buildings. Due to transpiration in plants, it is known that the surfaces of the walls do not rise more than around 5°C above the ambient temperature.

A vertical garden on the inside of a building

A vertical garden on the inside

For  smaller green walls the plant containers are often re-purposed – items that had a previous life – such as milk bottles and cartons, rain gutters, wooden palettes, crates, even disposable styrofoam coffee cups can be used for the seedlings.

Unlike the more traditional “recycling,” where materials are downgraded and then processed for reuse, up-cycling is converting both common and uncommon waste into new products of improved quality and environmental value. This act of repurposing has less impact on landfill.

Things to think about when considering a vertical garden:

  • Appropriate plant selection

Plant size, type, and plant requirements growing in confined spaces. Greater varieties of plant species can be used aand adds more visual itnerest.

  • Location

The ability to place the plants in vertical position for natural growth and reduced plant stress

  • Soil volume

Must be appropriate to the plant selection.

  • Drainage and irrigation

Both the drainage and irrigation should be built-in and integrated with the containers and structure, plumbed up and must efficiently remove excess water.

  • Runoff

By reducing the runoff by capturing water from the irrigation system will improve the water efficiency of the vertical garden and minimise leaching into other plants below.

  • Integrated water storage

Plants should be able to access water stored at the base of the container.

  • Easy Maintenance

This is critical – access must be made easy to insert new and remove old plants, rearrange plants, and to maintain the plants. In addition, maintenance will be required for the structure and drainage and irrigation lines.

Sometimes green walls just appear over time – buildings covered in ivy but managed over time. Frensham in Mittagong in the Southern Highlands is just that.


Frensham School, Mittagong

Frensham School, Southern Highlands

Vertical gardens have been designed for urban agriculture, urban gardening, because a wall can be made more attractive, and sometimes it is built indoors to help alleviate sick building syndrome.

What do you think – would you like a green wall in your house or workplace? Let us know below.

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