The World Health Organization recommends that every city should have at least 9m2 of green area per inhabitant (50 m2 would be ideal). But as the population concentrates in large metropolitan areas, will it be possible to guarantee this amount of green area? In Europe, around 75% of the population already lives in urban centres, well above the world average (56%), but below North America (82%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (79%).
On average, 40% of European cities are green areas, with 18.2 m2 of accessible green space for each inhabitant. Almost half (44%) of the European population lives within 300 metres of a public park. The problem, of course, is that averages can be misleading. Un London, for example, only 33% of the city’s area corresponds to green spaces, and in Edinburgh just 19%. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are more and more proposals for the reinvention of urban spaces
Arguably, part of the solution to increasing green spaces borrows from the same tactic we use to house the huge numbers of people concentrated in cities: vertical growth. In the future, both public buildings and residential buildings will have gardens and vertical façades to offset carbon emissions, improve air quality, reduce urban heat islands, and give us access to the green space we so desperately need.
In fact, there is no doubt that architecture is evolving in a greener and more eco-friendly direction. According to a February 2020 study, the vertical garden construction market will grow 6.18% per year until 2027. But the main barrier to further growth is precisely… maintenance. So, what can facility managers expect from the green buildings they will be managing very soon? How can we overcome the challenges that vertical garden maintenance presents?
Maintenance of Vertical Gardens, Façades, and Green Roofs
To better understand the challenges of maintaining vertical gardens and green spaces, nothing better than asking an expert in the field. And this was precisely the topic of our talk with Danyel Guzmán, CEO of Verdtical, a Spanish company leader in bioconstruction and construction of smart vertical gardens. The talk is available in full here [only available in Spanish]:
There are three main challenges in vertical garden maintenance:
- providing the optimal conditions for plant growth in an “artificial” way: maintaining the irrigation system and water pressure, fertilising, and ensuring substrate quality, controlling temperature and light (in indoor vertical gardens);
- managing the energy consumption related to all the systems that feed the plants and ensure the ideal conditions for them to develop;
- carrying out all maintenance and gardening tasks while working at height, in areas of difficult access, which is a huge challenge in terms of safety and dexterity. It’s not unusual for scaffolding or climbing equipment to be needed.
Of course, when technicians are working at a height of 20 metres, receiving breakdown notifications is not so simple. “Well, we differentiate into two types of work orders. One is more reactive, when there is an incidence or an alert that could endanger the facility. Those are classified as work orders, they are prioritised and are issued directly to the maintenance teams on site to act accordingly,” he begins by explaining.
“On the other hand, [preventive maintenance] is a key part of our work. As they can’t always access the platform at a height of 20 metres, because there are vertical works that have certain specifications, it’s paramount to plan work orders from a preventive point of view, with duration and dates. Define the equipment they have to check, measure, and record.”
If any equipment is not working properly, or measurements are not within certain parameters, “they can report it on the platform” and submit a repair request. This is what generates reactive work orders and maintains the conditions for the garden to continue to develop, with the right amount of water and nutrients, and no pests or diseases.
How does Infraspeak make it easier to maintain smart gardens?
As you may have noticed, Verdtical is not only dedicated to the construction of vertical gardens, but also to intelligent vertical gardens. Bearing in mind the importance of preventive maintenance to ensure the survival of these green spaces, the company implements sensors to monitor the pressure, temperature, and quality of the substrate. The data collected is transferred in real time to the maintenance platform.
The use of sensors not only reduces the number of on-site preventive work orders, but also avoids reactive maintenance (and the associated expenses). Even remotely, it is possible to transform the data into valuable information for the gardeners. In addition, the platform provides detailed reports on garden conditions and energy consumption, which leads to continuous improvements.
We all know that data is valuable, but it is not always easy to realise how much. However, if we evolve towards green and smart architecture, facility managers must respond with equally smart tools. While it’s impossible to deny the maintenance that vertical gardens require, it’s clear that we have the technological capability to meet the challenge.
“I want to be optimistic. I consider this [the COVID-19 pandemic] to be a moment of reflection, where we should think about what we were doing wrong and be more proactive with solutions that improve our relationship with the planet at all levels,” Danyel concludes.