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How greened buildings can contribute to biodiversity


In summer, we often see them as irksome little critters. They hover around our food and even land in our drinks. But in actual fact, we have to protect them from slowly dying out – as they too contribute to the ecosystem and are signs that biodiversity remains intact. We’re talking about insects. Biodiversity is having a hard time in Switzerland – and far beyond. For a long time now, measures have been taken to renature rivers and streams, woodland and green spaces. But renaturing is also possible in built-up urban areas: horizontally and vertically.

What’s the situation with regard to biodiversity in Switzerland?

Healthy biodiversity is the foundation for our lives – and our quality of life. If biodiversity isn’t doing well, various ecosystems will lack nutrients, raw materials and energy. In Switzerland, 60% of insects are currently at risk, 95% of dry grasslands and meadows have disappeared since 1900 and 40% of breeding birds are endangered. Healthy biodiversity has a direct impact on the food we eat and our quality of life: insects pollinate fruit and vegetables and do an important job in ensuring a good harvest. Improved air quality and thriving green spaces promote rest and relaxation.

Do greened facades boost biodiversity?

Overall, it’s clear that greened facades offer many advantages. However, some climbing plants promote biodiversity and others are less beneficial, depending on for whom they provide fruits or food, and whether they serve one or more species. At the Alma Hotel, the bee-friendly clematis and other flowers in the surrounding growth provide nectar for the bees in summer. In addition, a combination of shrub, facade and roof greening creates a «green corridor», a shelter for small animals and insects in the heart of Zürich’s Seefeld district.

Insects find a happy haven and the feed they need in the idyllic rose garden of the Alma Hotel.

Creating green oases in the concrete jungle

To restore biodiversity to a place where asphalt paving, concrete and glass buildings have created conditions hostile to life, you need a little creativity and the right expertise. Usually, boosting biodiversity is just one of the many effects that building owners hope for when introducing greening projects. However, we believe that every new construction project should consider how it can give something back to the environment in the process. Buildings are made for the future, including the challenges it brings. A greened facade improves air quality, reduces noise, improves the climate in the building’s rooms and offers a habitat for fauna and flora.

Greenwall at Zurich Airport

One of the biggest examples of facade greening in Switzerland is The Circle. At Zurich Airport, with advice and support from the company Ingold Gartenbau und Begrünungen AG, we built the evergreen “Greenwall” spanning 430 square meters in an initial stage. The wall-mounted full-surface systems make it possible to create habitats for a wide range of species and varieties of living things on just a few square meters of a very built-up environment. To promote biodiversity and keep it in focus, we requested suggestions from the management of the Zurich Botanical Gardens.

Biodiversity boosting plants at the Circle

  1. Cambridge cranesbill (Geranium cantabrigiense)
  2. Big-root cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum)
  3. Hedge myrtle (Lonicera nitida)
  4. Barren strawberry (Waldsteinia tenata)

In the «Greenwall» at Zurich Airport, you’ll find nine biodiversity-boosting plants suitable for the location (image source: Grün Stadt Zürich).

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No room for green spaces? We turn your facade into a vertical green space!

Evergreen facades or local plants?

Local plants are a good idea – but not essential. According to Martina Hildén, biodiversity expert and advisor at Hydroplant, customers regularly request evergreen facades and climbing plants. It’s important to consider that many environmentally significant and particularly local plants are not green in winter or struggle to withstand the heat of a south-facing facade in summer. Biodiversity is likely to trend towards all-season facade transformation, with local plants often being desirable, but not always the best visual or location-specific solution. With the help of structures and combinations, and evergreen and other plants, wonderful animals and insects are drawn to the garden or facade. The feed plants give the facade color and attract beautiful butterflies to delight those spending time on the balcony. At the Herren Globus terrace in Zurich or Bern, plants with local characteristics and an all-season feel create an oasis with Mediterranean flair. From an environmental perspective, hydrangeas, clematis, wisteria, kiwi and ivy produce oxygen and bind CO2, helping to reduce stress levels.

Vertical greenery on the Herren Globus terrace in Bern with all-season combinations

Biodiversity yes please, but which plants are recommended?

Martina Hildén is an expert in this area and is happy tp advise you on the way to a biodiverse facade.