In 2015 Australian Landscape Architects Praise Plastic Vertical Gardens

In 2015 Australian Landscape Architects Praise Plastic Vertical Gardens

artificial vertical gardens











Image: Tract Consultants

Is the protection of the environment not significant for Australian Landscape Architects in 2015?

A 6 storey plastic vertical garden designed by Tract consultants  has just been awarded a 2015 Design Award by the Victorian Chapter of the Landscape Architecture Institute in Australia (AILA). The building is 108 Flinders Street in Melbourne Australia. Designed by award winning Melbourne architects Fender Katsalidis.

This intriguing project provoked vigorous jury discussion. Tract has offered an interiorised landscape of artificial planting that addresses a number of challenging site constraints. The twelve-storey apartment building encloses an 18 x 8m first-floor atrium of eleven stories. With limited maintenance and service access, the requirement for a delightful, shared outlook for all residents has resulted in this experiment. While the concept of synthetic environments is hardly new, and past designers have tested the artistic and critical possibilities that artificial constructions can explore, the employment of fake vegetation in particular sits uneasily with predominant expectations of the profession.


The design features upside-down pendant potted trees, a soaring green wall and glass-bottomed pools which filter light to the foyer below. The space incorporates an eighteen metre graphic wall designed by Emery Studios. The careful, very seriously delivered detailing and well-judged sense of scale have created an engagingly rare space of mental play and visual joy. The jury congratulates Tract on a project that has earnestly investigated the playful possibilities open to landscape architects in developing unplanted green spaces.

VerticalGardenOnline is assuming the maintenance of real planting beds, including real vertical gardens was considered impractical due to harsh site constraints. Fair enough. But is it responsible or very clever for a landscape architect to utilise plastic plants instead of another material?  Why not consider using something that reduces – rather than increases – environmental pollution.

This award has the potential to fuel an already established demand in Australia for artificial plants. The general public are purchasing kilometers of plastic greenery to adorn their restaurants, homes and shopping centres.

In Australia artificial plant suppliers have reported increased demand for all types of artificial green walls. One supplier in Melbourne’s western suburbs has increased his range of plastic vertical gardens from 5 to over 17 types in six months. Sales keep growing and the demand shows no signs of slowing.

It is simply not possible to get recycled plastic artificial plants very easily in Australia. Most of the artificial plants in Australia are largely manufactured in dirty Chinese factories.

Surely there are other solutions. Why is AILA supporting the use of plastic plants manufactured using bad industrial practices?

Vertical garden solutions were originally promoted for their environmental benefits: they contributed to thermal cooling and biodiversity. Designers and landscapers have been very successful at educating the public about the virtues of vertical gardens. The public eye has been trained to appreciate, and now expect, plants on walls. Unfortunately vertical gardens are not easy to maintain. So rather than clad a wall with real plants the general public are preferring to clad with plastic plants. Had vertical gardens never been invented many of these walls would have been finished with timber, steel or render. These finishes may have been a preferable outcome to plastic plants that are manufactured in China?

Designers endorsing other designers work carries weight in the commercial world. An award signals to developers and the wider community that ‘this design is good’.  Designers influence and educate consumer tastes – sometimes designers can fuel and encourage a trend. The current supply of artificial vertical garden products into Australia currently trashes the planet. If AILA does not care that its award may support an industry that pollutes who else will care?

We are not advocating that AILA prioritise the environment above every other design consideration. Nevertheless we are expecting it to act responsibly.


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