Green wall breathes life into East End’s new Weil Hall

Elizabeth Phelan | Staff Writer

The plant wall in the new Weil Hall on the East End has evoked delight and wonder in the Washington University community, forming a pop of lushness into a space largely characterized by minimalist, geometric aesthetics.

University Architect and Associate Vice Chancellor James Kolker described how the “green wall” was designed and installed.

“In the original design it was exterior; it didn’t have a roof,” Kolker said. “The importance of having a conditioned space where it can be used throughout the year became a priority.”

Almost 30 feet by 30 feet, the wall is made up of about 5,400 total plants, with 10 different species and 280 “Biotiles,” or plugs of plant installed in the wall.

“The depth and variety of plants is pretty cool,” Kolker said. “It actually looks better than it did a month or two ago. The building itself is pretty simple, and filled with light and workspaces, but it’s really one of the most memorable features of the building.”

Kolker noted that the campus architects collaborated with the living green wall design and technology company Sagegreenlife to create the wall.

“We worked with the company to design this, with the architects and landscape architects, to design the pattern and then grew the plants offsite, and then they were all installed,” he said. “It was really fun working with this company because they do really beautiful things.”

By examining the wall up close and parting the leaves of the plants, it is striking to see how tightly the plugs fit together. The design reveals the remarkable attention to detail that was taken in integrating the wall within the physical constraints of the building.

A number of measures were taken to ensure that both the plants and the building can coexist in optimal condition.

“We wanted to be careful that we didn’t damage the wood floor,” Kolker said. “There is some humidity that comes off of it, so we were careful to put that little apron of a different material right at the base of it, [to protect the floor] if any water drips off of the leaves.”

Due to the size of the installation, the wall is carefully lit to ensure that the plants receive adequate light.

“It’s very important that it’s lit from top to bottom consistently,” Kolker said. “Even when there’s natural light, there’s still artificial light that supplements it.”

Brooke Bulmash, a junior in the Sam Fox School’s architecture program, expressed admiration for the wall, but noted concerns about the plant growth.

“I think it’s beautiful, it’s a lovely space,” Bulmash said. “I just worry about the longevity of the plants…Plants aren’t supposed to grow horizontally. It’s an interesting microclimate-type situation.”

Betsy Ellison, a junior in the College of Art in Sam Fox, approved of the installation.

“Sam Fox needs something that is just stupidly pretty,” Ellison said. “It’s been so sparse and brutalist and harsh. Even though it’s…very strange, and very silly, it’s something that just exists to be happy.”

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