Getting vertical with the Bay Area expert on green “living walls” – East Bay Times

David Brenner has a different perspective on gardens.

“If you look at something green and growing, it does something to you, physiologically — restores your mind, lowers blood pressure,” he says, gazing up – yes, up – at the massive “living wall” he designed for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the largest vertical garden in the country.

“Just take a deep breath,” he says, and does. “The colors, the shades of green, the movement of the ferns. We keep building big concrete buildings in urban areas, but we realize we need actual vegetation. Not only for the sake of the environment, but for reconnecting with nature, for our mental well-being.”

With a striking combo of horticulture and psychology in his background, San Jose native Brenner, 32, is a master of vertical vegetation. He turns the concept of gardens on end, not only with his artful plant designs and innovative watering systems, but with the idea of nourishing us urban-jungle workers with a breath of fresh nature.

And because of this specialized skill, he and his firm – San Francisco-based Habitat Horticulture — have become the go-to for the recent living wall trend in the Bay Area. His designs are in and/or on buildings at Tesla, Ideo, the California Academy of Sciences, Autodesk, Bay Meadows, Trulia. At Salesforce, Brenner created living partitions to break up an interior space. In the café on the Facebook campus, the word HARVEST is spelled out in greenery. His work is also found in private homes – a wall of living art behind a sofa, or even “gardens” on pieces of furniture.

Greening up the grind

While you’ll see the occasional houseplant on a worker’s desk, the concept of greening up entire sections of structures has only caught on in the last few years in the U.S., following Europe’s lead, Brenner says.

The “living wall”, a plant installation on the third-floor terrace at SFMOMA in San Francisco. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group) 

“If you look at the rest of the world, we’ve kind of been behind here in terms of what we’re building and how we’re reconnecting with nature,” he says. “Now, big companies like Google are really focusing on improving the workplace environment through air quality and visual elements. With plants, there’s a restorative effect on productivity. You can take a step away into nature for a moment, then go back to doing your work with a fresh start.”

Strong roots

Brenner, who grew up in Willow Glen, says his love of horticulture sprouted early — he’d care for his grandparents’ plants when they traveled to Italy each year. Later at Cal Poly, he studied horticulture and environmental psychology, and apprenticed at Kew Gardens in London, where he became fascinated by the concept of vertical gardens, using plants that could grow on rock faces and other hard surfaces. He realized there was a niche for that back home.

So when he returned to his studies at Cal Poly, a botany professor gave him access to a greenhouse in the middle of campus. “I started using that like my laboratory, experimenting on different watering systems, different plants, how to support the weight of the plants on a wall,” he says.

He came up with a lightweight system using a “felt” backdrop made of recycled water bottles, which is sufficiently porous to distribute water evenly. The plants, with minimal soil, are then placed in small pockets in the felt, causing no damage to the underlying wall. “It’s a hydroponic system eventually,” he says. “All the nutrients are added through the water, so the plants can live indefinitely. Roots may migrate, but they won’t become root-bound.”

The malleable felt backing also allows Brenner to work with unusual shapes. He’s currently designing a living wall for a curved structure in a large mall in San Diego, and is experimenting with sculptural installations.

He designs everything on an iPad, and usually on an airplane. He often works with the architect on a new project, starting with technical specifications of wall size and integrity, then addressing lighting issues – what kinds of plants can grow in certain spaces with the daylight available. After that, he chooses a color palette and textures.

In essence, he paints with plants.

Natural moments

Brenner’s most notable triumph to date is certainly the SFMOMA wall. Even at the renovated museum with its seven floors of glorious art-filled galleries, a nature break can be a relief. And the wall – now grown lush and leafy in the year since the museum reopened — is clearly a draw for visitors, says Ruth Berson, deputy museum director of curatorial affairs.

“It’s probably our biggest selfie magnet,” she says. “Visually, it’s a work of art in its own right. But there is something special about being able to rest your eyes on something green and living, taking a break from the manmade things in the building.”

And there’s much green to absorb – 4,400 square feet of it, from the emerald of the ivy to the pea-green of the ferns. There are baby’s tears and giant clovers. Fairies should live there, and maybe they do.

Detail of native California plants on the
Detail of native California plants on the “living wall”, a plant installation on the third-floor terrace at SFMOMA in San Francisco. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group) 

Brenner chose 21 species of native plants that mimicked the understory of a California redwood forest, mostly because the wall – between the museum and a parking garage structure — gets only about an hour of sun a day. The wall, beginning on the museum’s third level, rises up past windows on several floors.

He worked with Oakland engineering firm Hyphae to develop the creative irrigation system in which plants are watered with rainwater and condensation collected from the building, and embedded sensors track moisture.

Because the plants are not in boxes, as in some living-wall systems, the composition is amorphous and can change naturally over time.

“There are so many ways to experiment with shapes and locations,” Brenner says. “We’re only scratching the surface of what’s possible.”


Four tips from the expert

David Brenner of Habitat Horticulture, the Bay Area’s go-to designer of living walls for corporate and private spaces, says there are a few things to keep in mind if you want your own green, growing structure at home:

  1. “There are a lot of different commercial systems out there,” he says, “so that’s a good place to start to find the look you’re going for.
  2.  Consider the light your wall will get. “Indoors and even outdoors we will sometimes add supplemental lights.”
  3. One of the trickiest parts for any garden is choosing the right plants – what will grow with the light and climate you have. Go for lots of dimension with fuller to more compact plants. “But because things are growing out from a vertical structure, some species overshadow the others, creating shade over the species below, so you have to keep an eye on that and trim some back.”
  4. Think about access. “If you can’t easily access the wall, you can’t maintain it properly.”










Source link

get in touch

got something in your mind?

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.