Large walls can pose a decorating dilemma, but thinking of them as blank canvases can allow for creativity and fun.

You can paint them, wallpaper them, cover them in artwork. But a new option may be to grow them.

Sustainable walls packed with plants aren’t new to outside spaces. They allow coverage and beauty to converge while providing color and plenty of room for conversation. But the once outdoor-only alternative is moving inside, offering new meaning to the phrase “Bringing the outside in.”

Vinny Fazzino of Bella Builders not only designs them for clients, he also has several in his own backyard. But more of them are being seen inside both commercial and residential spaces throughout Southern California. He’s presently working on the creation of one in the bathroom, underneath a skylight, in a Santa Monica home.

With a strong urban backdrop, this living wall adds beauty in an unexpected location.
With a strong urban backdrop, this living wall adds beauty in an unexpected location. (Courtesy photo.)

 

Fazzino said he approaches each project as he would an art installation. “They make for great conversation pieces whether they’re inside or outside,” he said.

Using green technology, the self-contained systems operate with a closed-loop hydroponics mechanism that recirculates water and is on a timer. They are held together in steel frames. Succulents are extremely popular, but Fazzino uses many types depending on the location of the structure. The only real requirement is that the plant has a tap-root system that allows the small roots to fan out and take hold. The result is a decorative fixture that saves water, while creating something different and beautiful.

 

Fazzino has been in the construction industry for 25 years and likes the idea of incorporating sustainable building technologies with function in form.

“People have less and less space to plant; the idea is to grow up,” he said, or even out. “These types of structures have flourished in Europe for decades and I thought it was something to look into, to try and get ahead of the trend. I’m not the only one sold on these. Architects love these living walls, too.”

Indeed. The walls were prominent in the 2013 fluxHome, designed and built for an energy solar decathlon competition by architecture students at USC. Professor Gary Paige served as a co-director of the project along with Alice Kimm.

 

“When we were doing the fluxHome, our plan was to reimagine the suburban tract house of Southern California, emphasizing the use of indoor/outdoor space,” said Paige, a member of the design faculty at the School of Architecture.

As part of that design, the team looked at the traditional use of front, side and back lawns. In most cases, their use doesn’t work well, particularly involving water consumption.

“So we looked at how outdoor space is utilized as well as indoor space,” he said. “The competition limited the structure to between 600 to 1,000 square feet. We elected to reduce the footprint of the house, making outdoor space an integral part of the house.”

 

That part resulted in the use of three separate living or vertical walls. These green walls were functional — used in one case as an indoor plant/herb garden, while all three contributed to improving air quality — as well as fashionable. But the team’s aim was to go beyond looks.

“What we wanted was a performative effort. We wanted the walls not to just be seen as decorative or ornamental,” Paige said. “We were interested in using plant materials and making them an integral part of the architecture instead of using them simply in pots.”

 

Although these green walls were used for academic research, Paige said they are a very real solution for the efficient and socially responsible use of space in any home.


The 2013 solar decathlon team from USC used three living walls in its fluxHome entry.
The 2013 solar decathlon team from USC used three living walls in its fluxHome entry. (Courtesy photo)