The engineering behind vertical gardens: an integral component of sustainable cities

Visions of skyscrapers swathed in living greenery dominate present-day urban planning. Like the erstwhile parsley on a plate of food, such fanciful plantings are not mere window dressing, but an accepted component of sustainable cities.

Pushing the envelope in Hong Kong is New World Development. Its premium office development K11 Atelier King’s Road, in Quarry Bay, opened in 2019 with a total of 6,700 square meters (72,000 square feet) of greenery – some 217,000 plants – equivalent to 220 per cent of the site area. 

This expansive green coverage was achieved via four elements of planting: at street level, on the vertical façade and rooftop of the 22-storey building, but also incorporating an experimental green roof on the underside of the arrival plaza – an idea Edwin Chan, senior project director of New World Development, believes has never been tried before.

The aim was to soften the harsh aesthetic of a former industrial neighborhood and help mitigate the heat island effect that keeps densely built city areas warmer than surrounding areas. But not every element of the planting worked as expected.

A system of vertical planting developed in-house by the New World team – where the plants are rooted in fiberglass trays using a sponge and soil system and hung upside down with automated watering and artificial light – was successfully trialed off-site over three years, using a variety of plant species.

But in situ, it also relied on precise installation so the trays were evenly balanced. This didn’t happen, with the result that some plants received too much water, and others not enough. “It depended on site workmanship, which was difficult to control,” Chan said. After the first year, with some plants struggling, it was back to the drawing board to design version two.
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