The push towards sustainability in the built environment has turned the building industry on its head. This evolution has seen the Australian green building industry blossom from a niche sector focusing on single dwellings to a mainstream industry encompassing large-scale projects, communities and entire cities.
Although many sustainability initiatives lie beneath the visible surface of a project, one of the more conspicuous results of this movement is the use of plants in multi-residential projects. Increasingly, plants are being incorporated into builds to create a healthy, tranquil and enjoyable space for residents.
According to the CEO of the Green Building Council of Australia, Romilly Madew, architects are using plants in their projects both internally and externally in a variety of ways.
“Green walls are being used in building interiors and on external façades, and plants are being used to create lush interior oases [as well as] on roofs to combat the heat island effect,” she explains.
Green roofs and walls have been found to reduce what is known as the ‘Urban Heat Island Effect’, whereby an urban area is significantly warmer than the surrounding areas. This is due to human modification of land surfaces that results in sunlight being converted into heat. This heat is then stored and released, raising local temperatures.
This effect has been demonstrated in research by Melbourne City Council. While looking into the heat island effect, the council found that average temperatures within Melbourne's CBD are up to 4°C higher than in surrounding suburbs. In some instances, the recorded difference is a massive 12°C higher during the evenings.
A study by the University of Melbourne found that rooftop gardens are effective at combatting over-heating within the urban context. At the same time, the use of air conditioning can be cut by up to 38 percent in buildings that have rooftop gardens installed.
“External green walls can reduce the urban heat island effect and enhance a building’s façade, while reducing the surface temperature of walls. [By shading] windows, [it can also] limit solar gains and, [subsequently], the need for artificial cooling,” explains Madew.
Another recognised benefit of using plants in both the internal and external elements of buildings is to improve the physical and mental health of a building’s occupants.