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Energy & Environment

It's Alive! 'Living Wall' Hopes to Flourish at UT, If It Can Survive the Summer

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
"Living wall" installations could become more common at the University of Texas, but first the self-sustaining ecosystem embedded in the wall must survive a Central Texas summer.

Walls. They can shelter us. They can divide us. But can a wall itself become an object of curiosity? Well, one wall on the campus of UT Austin has done just that.

It stands on the western edge of campus, looking kind of like a 10-by-25-foot white honeycomb. Its designer, UT architecture professor Danielle Briscoe, calls the honeycomb a “living wall.”

Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT

“In each of the honeycombs, there’s some sort of plant, a sort of native species plant, that’s hardy or requires very little water. Or we have some cells that are filled with what we call a 'habitat,'” Briscoe said.

There’s a place for a birds’ nest, a place for a beehive – even a rough surface upon which lizards can exfoliate. Briscoe refers to that surface as “our lizard spa.”

A man and woman, stopping to admire the wall, asked Briscoe whether the wall is “her project.”

"This is my project,” she responded. She and the couple chatted for a couple minutes about the wall, Briscoe thanked them for their interest and the couple joked, if Briscoe ever decided to move the wall, they’d love to have it at their home.

Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT

That, Briscoe said, is representative of the kind of reaction she wants during this stage of the pilot project. The wall has instruments that monitor how much water it uses, how much heat it absorbs and also how many people stop to take a look.

As for what's next? Briscoe said here in Austin, she’d like to install a living wall to beautify UT's Guadalupe Street parking garage. She’s also been getting emails about including the walls in buildings across the county.  But, first, she and her colleagues need to work to make this one on campus more self-sustaining, and to wait and see if the plants can survive the next few months.

That could be a challenge here in Central Texas, because it’s going to get really hot, Briscoe said "really, really hot.” 

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