On May 16, volunteers will come together to install a living wall at The University of Texas at Austin. The project is funded by the school’s Green Fee Award. Spearheaded by UT Austin Vice President for Operations Pat Clubb, the living wall project is being shepherded by Assistant Professor Danelle Briscoe. The idea for the wall was put forth by a former Austin city councilman, Chris Riley. The first wall will be installed on the northwest corner of the school of architecture, with others to follow depending on the impact of the project on campus.
Of course, building a living wall in the Texas climate is not without its difficulties. “We are obviously really challenged by the hot dry climate of Austin, and getting something to grow that is suspended up in the air is probably asking for the impossible to occur,” describes Briscoe. To combat these factors, the team has worked with ecologists to assemble a strategic plant list, which includes succulents like red yucca and false aloe, shrubs like beargrass, climbers like trumpet vine and scarlett clematis, and grasses like curly mesquite. The wall will not only be vertical—it will also use available ground space. The wall will be built from a combination of trellises and bio habitat cells, which are being pre-fabricated. “It’s not just about having the plants aesthetically do their work, but how the combination and planting pattern affect what benefits we bring to the ecology of the space as well,” continues Briscoe. All of this will combine to create a habitat for anole lizards, hummingbirds, butterflies, songbirds, and raptors, a “living” wall in more ways than one.
The wall will be installed by students and volunteers from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, as well as any other volunteers interested in joining in (contact Danelle Briscoe for information). Due to the nature of the bio habitat cells, the plants are already being established off site and will be transplanted into the trellis on the day of installation.
Briscoe characterizes the project’s mission as “beautifying and ecologically benefitting parking garages on campus,” and she envisions the method being applied to "other sore spots that may be in need of attention and TLC.” In that resprect, this first living wall is just the initial step in a project that could transform The University of Texas at Austin, creating entire facades that beautify the campus as well as improve air quality. In the future, the projects may even spread beyond the university to civic spaces. For now, the wall is merely another step toward a more sustainable UT Austin.