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Living Wall brings nature into the Philadelphia Airport
Philly

Living Wall brings nature into the Philadelphia Airport

The plant-art crossover designed by Urban Jungle gives travelers a breath of fresh air

Why have drab, boring airports when we can bring nature inside?

If you’ve flown out of Philadelphia International Airport, you might have noticed a stretch of plants hanging on the wall of the American Airlines (B/C) Terminal.

It’s the work of Urban Jungle, a Philadelphia-based company with a history of installing living walls. The living walls are also part of a larger renovation project at the airport that includes significant upgrades to the facility’s restrooms.

President Curt Alexander, who founded the company in 2009, describes it as the signature project of his career; and one that his colleague, Vice President Jane Winkel, believes stands out.

The living wall is a blend of art and plant. “It’s a hybrid between some of the art installations and planting, almost like a really large plant mural,” said Winkel.

Its location on the corner adds another architectural element in addition to mood-boosting elements. “Living walls are like big biophilic billboards. A well-designed wall of plants provides aesthetic and environmental benefits. They can inspire feelings of contentment and happiness,” explained Winkel.

The wall is composed of azek (which acts as a structural component and the waterproofing layer), solid growing media, gabion wire, plants and a stainless steel drain pan.

Alexander presented the idea of the Living Wall to architectural firm Kelly Maiello Architects, who saw the perks of the wall’s low maintenance. “They liked this system because there’s no soil,’ said Alexander.

After presenting 4 different concepts to Julie Coyle, the airport’s project and construction manager, Urban Jungle began construction of the 43-foot long, 90-inch high work. But first, they had to find the right time to do so.

Living walls, Philadelphia Airport

Unlike a typical 9-to-5, all the work had to be completed between 8:30 p.m. and 3 a.m. Four people worked on both the mechanical and plant installation over two nights last October. “When the airport is busy, we can’t be in the airport working on the wall,” Winkel said.  

One aspect of the project that was easier than many others is that the airport has a clerestory – a high section of wall that contains windows above eye level – and the windows allow a lot of natural light to reach the wall.

The green walls have given life to what is often seen as a very sterile environment, which is just one of its benefits.

“Plants help to improve air quality, although this is an understudied claim,” Winkel said. “Plants have the ability to absorb volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. Walls of plants, through the process of photosynthesis, absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.”

Next on Urban Jungle’s list is releasing a new product called the Oasis Living WallTM for homes and offices that can be installed without the need to connect to plumbing or drainage. The company is designing it with many of the same components as its full-scale living walls.

“We’re getting a lot of interest in that right now,” Alexander stated.

Photos: Jane Winkel


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Rashaad Jorden grew up in the Philadelphia area — the New Jersey suburbs, to be exact — but has taught English in Japan and France in addition to getting a Master's degree from Leeds Beckett University in the United Kingdom. He also has run several road races in Philadelphia, completing the Broad Street Run numerous times. View all posts by Rashaad Jorden
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