Travel: Private “Vegitecture” Tour of Jardí Tarradellas, Barcelona’s Tallest Residential Vertical Garden

July 14, 2013 by

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These days we find gardens in unconventional places, from highway median dividers to old parking lots. The City of Barcelona has elevated growing plants in unlikely places to an art form, transforming newly exposed party walls into lush vertical gardens, turning urban blight to urban beauty and at the same time supporting and encouraging biodiversity.

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Photo: Capella Garcia Arquitectura

In 1986, the Barcelona City Council launched The Party Wall Recovery Program, and has over the past 27 years transformed 700 of the city’s party walls left exposed after the demolition of adjacent buildings. Most of these walls have been beautified with artworks or the addition of windows, but in 2010 the City Council’s Institute of Urban Landscape employed “Vegitecture” to bring one such unsightly wall to life.

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Photo: Capella Garcia Arquitectura

The city engaged  Capella Garcia Arquitectura to design the Jardí Tarradellas (The Tarradellas Garden or the Green Side-Wall), a massive modular vertical garden which transformed a party wall into a living wall, a free-standing green facade covering one side of a residential tower in the city’s Les Corts district, a neighborhood where Roman villas once stood before 20th-century urbanization.

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Behind the Scenes
Though not open for public viewing, City Council representatives arranged a private guided tour for me, my Barcelona hosts, and our friends from ASESCUVE, the Spanish Association of Green Roofs. I had read about and seen photos of the impressive green facade, but that virtual view offered limited insight into the actual experience, which touched all the senses beyond the visual.

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Standing before the soaring vertical garden, I enjoyed a complete sensory experience not just from the view, but from the strong sweet fragrance of climbing trachelospermum jasminoides, the white star-shaped flowers cascading alongside neighboring shrubby purple solanium jasminoides.

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The towering green facade provides a perpetual display of low maintenance plants that change color and scent with the seasons, a true living wall whose personality evolves, transforms, and regenerates itself throughout the year.

Experimental “Vegitecture”
Extending about four feet up from the pavement, a natural stone wall serves as the garden’s foundation, stretching independently and parallel to the building’s foundation.

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The landscape maintenance team pointed out various sedums and tiny succulents popping through the rock crevasses, explaining that they’d been experimenting with the green base, testing various plants to see which grew best.

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Although they had experienced some expected failures–the first sedums they planted did not root–we all agreed that what was protruding now through the stone wall seemed to be prospering.

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Looking up from the ground, we could see the structure narrowing gradually as it rose to the top, 21 meters (about 69 feet) above street level.

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The freestanding structure wraps around and attaches to the side of the building. 

Stacked Balcony Garden Design
Our behind-the-scenes tour began as we climbed the green facade’s supporting skeleton, a hidden grid of prefabricated non-corrosive galvanized steel stairs and frames assembled on site.

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The facade’s “balconies” visible during construction. Photo: Capella Garcia Arquitectura. 

A contiguous network of lightweight galvanized rectangular planters forms a series of connected balconies which rise eight stories up from the building’s rugged stone wall base.

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Inside, we stood on expanded metal grid platforms–like scaffolding–through which we could see the floors below and above us.

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Our guides demonstrated the inner workings of the garden’s drip irrigation system, which is operated remotely from a smart phone.

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Through a network of connected tubes, the system automatically feeds the planters with programmed doses of water and fertilizer on alternate odd and even days, employing a controlled drainage system to conserve water by allowing excess water from the floor above to drip down to the one below.

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Easy Planting, Easy Maintenance
Interior access to the garden distinguishes this design from that of other green walls whose planting and maintenance must be facilitated from the exterior requiring elevated platforms (like window washers use) making access difficult and potentially dangerous, and increasing labor costs. At Terradellas, maintenance teams easily reach the modular planted platforms via the interior stairway and can transport materials up using an integrated internal pulley system.

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A New Urban Ecosystem
The towering vertical garden, maintained by the city’s Department of Parks and Gardens, not only beautifies this once bleak city corner between Carrer Berlín and Carrer Marquès de Sentmenat, it has also created a new ecosystem.

Like other living facades, this one generates oxygen and absorbs CO2, described as an enormous “lung” which filters dust, fumes and pollution, while also establishing an acoustic screen that suppresses noise. The green wall provides a 75% reduction in cooling, making it possible to reduce energy demand by 25% depending on the thickness of the plants, saving the building’s residents energy by cooling the building in summer and retaining warmth it in winter.

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Tarradellas also provides a natural habitat for a variety of urban wildlife, including bats and eight types of birds, encouraging to colonization within its structure. From the interior, we were able to view the bird and bat houses, designed by renown Catalonian green wall expert, Alex Puig. (Stay tuned for the upcoming feature on my visit to Alex Puig’s Girona nursery and studio, where I participated in an impromptu sustainable design colloquium.)

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Even in the generally unseen interior, there were little surprises, unexpected private statements we nearly overlooked, like the little inconspicuously placed bird sculptures perched here and there amid the structure’s metal grid.

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As Barcelona’s Director of Green Spaces and Biodiversity, Esther Murillo, explained, Jardí Tarradellas has been a successful experiment in discovering what will and will not work effectively for future projects. The project has proved not to be cost-effective enough to reproduce, however the city has learned much from it and now has ideas and plans for the transformation of many more party walls into natural habitats that will improve the health and welfare of all Barcelona’s living creatures.

What do you think? We’d love to hear what you think of this! Please weigh in below by commenting to tell us what you like best, have questions about, etc.

Unless otherwise notes, all photos by Robin Plaskoff Horton for Urban Gardens. Subject to copyright.

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Note: This is the first in a series of posts about my recent visit to Barcelona and Girona, where a group of Spanish landscape designers who follow this blog invited me to meet in person and experience first hand some of the greenest and greatest designs from Catalonia’s creative community of renown garden and floral designers, urban ecologists, and green architects. (Feel free to repost this story, but please link back to Urban Gardens as the source.) Stay tuned for much more!!

 

17 Comments »

  1. sarah stonich said:

    This is fabulous.

    — July 18, 2013 @ 12:22

  2. Robin Horton said:

    Thanks Sarah! It was a truly memorable experience to see it in person. And, wow, Barcelona is one fine city!

    — July 18, 2013 @ 12:25

  3. Clem said:

    Any issues with insect infestations spreading from the plantings to the residential spaces within the buildings?

    — July 29, 2013 @ 10:39

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