The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Thursday, March 17, 2016


The Great Walls of Green     

Long before the Internet developed listicles of trite clickbait [‘ten fun ways stars tie their bikinis’] serious students of classical history learned of the Seven Wonders of the World. 
They included the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  These supposedly existed in the Eastern Mediterranean around 200 BC, but destroyed three centuries later.
Nothing remains; artists later let their imaginations loose, but the marvel remained a mystery.  How was it done?
Zip forward two millennia to when US architect and academic Stanley White patented his ‘vegetation-bearing architectonic structure and system.’ Fortunately a copy editor reduced it to ‘botanical bricks’.
These were described as ‘plant units capable of being built up to any height, for quick landscape effects, the vertical surfaces covered with flowering vines, or the like.’
That was in 1938, not a time for inventing anything which didn’t explode or fire projectiles, so the idea lay dormant.  Now its slumber is over, and green walls – also known as living walls - have become the new architectural statement for prestige buildings, or to cover mistakes.
Jakarta and Surabaya have a few, but in Asia Singapore is leader. Changi Airport has some spectacular examples and even normally austere government offices have been given a soft green edge.

In the East Java city of Malang authorities at the University of Brawijaya wanted to screen a roadside rubbish dump so turned to horticulture lecturer Medha Baskara. (left) He’d studied the work of French botanist and ecological engineer Patrick Blanc in Holland and France.
Blanc [which curiously translates as ‘white’] is credited with reviving and expanding White’s ideas.
“The green walls at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris are stunning and exciting,” said Baskara. “Blanc calls his creations ‘vertical gardens’ and there’s one at a resort in Bali.
“I spent a whole day just admiring the designs and decided to help introduce the idea to Indonesia.  By building a green wall on campus we could beautify the university, create projects for the students and promote the concept.”
The result is a 27 meter long curved metal frame three meters high and clad with a hanging carpet of glass wool, the insulation also used in motorcycle riders’ jackets.  Twenty different types of plants are pushed into slits in the material. 
 Selection is important – if one variety blooms early or late the effect can be spoiled.  Likewise with positioning; sun-shy plants will perish with no shade

An automatic pumping system runs for one minute every hour delivering water through a pipe on the frame top.  The water, which includes nutrients, drips down and irrigates the plants.
Unlike traditional botanical gardens where admirers have to keep back lest they trample flower beds, green walls let visitors get close.  For workers the extra advantage is standing or sitting to prune, not crawling on hands and knees among the mud and snails.
“In Europe green wall designs try to create a wild, irregular jungle feel,” Baskara said.  “However Indonesians prefer symmetry.  Maintenance can be low if tanks, timers and pumps are used, but the capital investment is higher – it cost the university Rp2.5 million [US$183] a square meter to build and equip this wall.”

Some systems use pots suspended on a wire frame.  Others adapt PVC gutters or drainage pipes with holes or slots for the plants. Plastic cool drink bottles hung horizontally can also be effective. There are other growing media coming on the market which are cheaper and easier to use.
The only limits are those imposed by a lack of creativity. The challenge is to make green walls accessible to all using low-cost or recycled materials, and not just for big business projects. [See breakout].
“Ideas like vertical gardens are giving horticulture and agriculture courses new status on campus,” said Baskara.  He was raised in a home where his teacher parents had a garden and encouraged his interest in nature.
 “In the past medicine and law, business and management were the key disciplines. Now students concerned about global warming and conservation are turning to botany and what they can do to protect the future.
“They are taking their learning and skills into the world and will hopefully apply them.”  One of his graduates, Dias Anggarsari, 23, who spent time up a ladder helping build the green wall is now employed with the local government maintaining Malang’s parks and filling them with plants.
The office she shares with her colleagues faces a green wall. “It’s a marvellous job,” she said, “This is what I wanted – to work with nature and do something that adds beauty.”

Not a tree - a vertical garden

A green Jakarta?
The Indonesian capital is planning to have 34.51 percent of the city green by 2030 through creating garden roofs and green walls.

Under Jakarta’s Spatial Planning bylaw the city should provide incentives for residents to create green open spaces.

Jakarta Development Planning Agency head Sarwo Handayani reportedly said he was confident the target could be reached, but land would have to be bought.

Jakarta’s environmental plans have been reduced several times since the 1970s. Grey office towers, shopping centers, glass-walled apartments and hotels have gobbled anything green.
The result is that families tend to use the air-conditioned malls for recreation, while overseas the places to exercise, relax and meet friends are the parks.
In the 1970s more than 37 per cent of Jakarta was said to be public open space.  Now it’s down to less than 20 per cent.

How green was my kampong?

The residents of Sukun New Camp 3 [that’s the name, not a translation] call it their ‘main road’ with some sense of irony.  It’s 1.9 meters wide so can be negotiated by kaki lima [mobile food carts] while the by-lanes are just 1.2 meters across.
The kampong is sandwiched between Malang’s Sukun Cemetery and a cluttered highway linking the East Java city with Blitar.
That tends to reduce the planning options, particularly when the 350 households have green ideals but no spare space and little money.  So the only way is up, using recycled bottles and cans for the plants.
These soaring ambitions have resulted in transforming what could have been a decrepit slum into a showplace of blooming creativity which has won scores of local and international awards.
Community leader Zainul Arifin said the process began in 2009 when residents sought ways to make their kampong healthier.
“We started growing a huge variety of plants, including medicinal herbs, but there was so little room,” he said.  “So we turned to rooftops and walls.

“Now New Camp 3 attracts international visitors, including from the World Bank, and Indonesian politicians.  This has been a community effort – apart from planting we’ve made and installed 70 compost bins for household scraps.”
The abundant greenery also softens traffic noise.  The plants convert carbon di-oxide, of which there’s an excess from traffic, into oxygen.  They make the urban feel rural. No masks required.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 15 March 2016)


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