Better cities through… asparagus?

Today’s research is tomorrow’s design. We’re asking researchers within Arup and beyond to describe their work and its potential applications. Martin Pauli, an architect and materials specialist in our Berlin office, told us about his investigations into green façades.


What are you studying?

We’ve been working on a software-based approach to helping engineers and architects quantify the ability of multifunctional green façade systems to improve urban air quality. We tested asparagus plants to determine their potential to absorb pollutants, then used the data to create a digital model (shown above) of a case study site in Berlin.

The research has been a collaboration with Christian Ulrichs, the chair of urban plant ecophysiology at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Why is this important?

Today most façade systems serve only limited functions. This is a missed opportunity — their sheer size when considered as a whole makes them a tremendously important part of urban environments. Activating them further could greatly improve our cities.

What are the potential implications for the future?

Urbanization has accelerated rapidly over the last century. By 2025 the global population is expected to grow to eight billion; 56% of these people will live in urban areas. Green façade systems hold great potential to make cities quieter, cooler, and less polluted for urban-dwellers in decades to come.

What are the next steps?

The initial results were promising and will serve as the starting point for further research. We’ll conduct more case study trials around the globe, examining acoustic benefits and urban heat island mitigation in addition to pollution absorption. We’ll also extend quantification opportunities with respect to these phenomena, enabling planners to easily integrate the tool into their daily planning routines.

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