Eighteen months ago the AJ published work by Duncan Lewis, a British architect based in Bordeaux (AJ 14.04.05), which explored the potential of wire mesh as a framework for vegetation, a less bombastic counterpart to Herzog & de Meuron's investigations into living walls. At the time we remarked that it was hard to imagine Lewis' 'plant chic' taking root in the UK. We like our architecture (and nature) to be quantifiable and distinct. Green roofs are one thing, hybrid buildings/organisms quite another.
Since then, the AJ has published two projects with clear resonances with Lewis' work: Paradise Park Children's Centre in Islington by DSDHA (AJ 17.08.06) and this week's Building Study, Tolladine Sure Start and Community Centre by Meadowcroft Griffin (see pages 23-35). Both are feisty self-assured buildings with a presence and a makeshift quality appropriate to community use. Both were designed with steel-mesh cladding as a framework for a living green wall.
Despite the contentious nature of the project, the green wall at Paradise Park was not only tolerated, but credited with soothing the painful passage through participation and planning.
Tolladine remains starkly naked; the steel mesh which was conceived as a lattice for vegetation has itself become the building's outer clothes.
The official reason is that two members of staff suffer from hay fever, but in an environment where staff grapple with social deprivation and even gunfire, it is hard to believe that vegetation could prove such a threat. One suspects a degree of resistance to a move which would exaggerate the building's 'otherness'.
In a parkland setting a green wall allows the building to be read as an extension, rather than an invasion, of its surroundings. It is far more challenging when green space is in short supply.