At the University of Guelph, near Toronto, green design is a literal term. The new Humber building, designed by Toronto firm Diamond Schmitt Architects, Inc., uses a wall of plants as a living air purifier for the 170,000-sq.ft. building.

The four-story biofilter is a thick jungle of ferns, ivy and other plants, working together to emit microbes that break down harmful airborne contaminants into water and CO2. The wall is self-cleaning, since pollutants are not absorbed into the plants, but actually broken down.
The biofilter was developed by biological researchers at the University of Guelph, including Alan Darlington, who now heads his own company, Air Quality Solutions, Ltd., to sell the living walls commercially.

Because the wall naturally generates fresh air, and because the need for ventilation, heating and cooling systems is significantly reduced, the biofilter promises to be a big money saver for the university. Engineers estimate that up to 3.5 kilowatts per person can be saved during peak seasons.

In addition to all of these benefits, the wall adds tremendous aesthetic value to the area. The lush biofilter is a towering work of living art in the Humber building’s atrium. Scientists are also attempting to quantify the psychological benefits of the biofilter, predicting that the presence of so much greenery improves attendance.

In the future, Air Quality Solutions, Ltd. hopes increase sales to other commercial and educational settings, and to the home market. The initial cost is not cheap? currently $1,200 per square meter?but the longterm savings and intrinstic benefit of the biofilter far outweigh the startup. For those of us accustomed to regurgitated oxygen from ventilation ducts, this kind of innovation is a breath of fresh air.

posted by: Sarah Rich