Living Walls

The world is becoming increasing urban, with over 50% of the world’s population residing in cities and 80% of Americans residing in cities. Cities are the product of specialization, in which a disconnect between food and its source happens. In urban settings the density of people is very high resulting in little to no land per person. Even when there is available land for community gardens and other equivalents, there is a disconnect between the existence of these gardens and the community that needs to present to support the garden. We hope to create an appropriate technology that will address this disconnect and provide arable land for those without access. By providing a technology that allows the non-gardener to start producing with little commitment we hope to create a new generation of gardeners and producers. The more people producing healthy food is both good for our health by reducing the amount of process and refined foods we eat, while simultaneously reducing our carbon footprints. Considering the long term sustainability, living walls are a step in the right direction towards a transition from a solely consumer to a producer mind set. While we don’t anticipate that these hanging gardens to provide a full food source for people, we believe they will generate home food production while empowering people to be closer to their food source, provide a source of supplemental nutrients, and create a learning zone for people.


Quote from Michael Pollan’s article Why Bother

Why is it imperative we start producing our own food again?

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Note: The red line indicates the recommended daily sugar (American Heart Association)

intake for adult males.

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These graphs demonstrate the strong correlation between urbanization and sugar intake, and the strong correlation between sugar intake and obesity. Elevated sugar intakes, thanks to the advent of refined and artificial sugars has lead to the unprecedented amount of diabetes, obesity, and other health conditions. Not only does this cause many people to have poor quality of life but it is also putting a huge strain on the health care system and economy.

Why NYC?

NYC is no stranger to the idea of urban gardening. The number of present-day gardens — around 800 — may be half what it was in the mid-1980s. The problem isn’t a lack of community gardens but rather a lack of the community itself. Many of the registered community gardens have trouble meeting the 10 person minimum to be considered a community garden.

Why Bolivia?

The original idea for this project came from one of our group members having observed a significant lack of vegetables in the diet of people in Bolivia. The idea however has evolved over time to become much more than a way to solve this original problem. Unlike NYC where there is a culture of eating fresh vegetables but a lack of community, Bolivia is home to huge communities, but very few of their traditional and new age foods come from fresh ingredients. The idea for Bolivia is then to reintroduce and support the idea of having fresh vegetables added to meals as well as empower people to know the source of their food. Because buildings are taxed when they are completed and since people are generally have small yards in front of their 2-3 story apartment buildings in cities, perhaps an apartment rooftop garden would be more appropriate in Bolivia. Our product would however be a great start into promoting the idea of having locally grown food and eating fresh produce, rather than fried chicken or modified traditional foods that are heavy in meat.

There are a number of other ways in which urban agriculture can improve various aspects of life…

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Close up of what benefits growing vegetables/fruits/herbs provides in an urban community

Current Hanging Garden Technology

Stationary units such as plastic soda bottles

Sack bags
Advanced metal planter device off window sill


Physical Cultural
“Standard” Window Sill Hang Drying Laundry
Weight of Plants/Soil Medium Seasonality of Produce
Drainage Instant Gratification
View Obstruction/Sunlight Value of Produce vs Cost of Hanging Garden

Decision Matrix

Material for Container

Plastic Metal Recycled Foam Ceramic Wood Grow Bag
Price 6 3 10 6 2 5 10
Durability 5 9 5 7 6 6 3
Effort 5 2 4 7 1 4 7
Environmental Impact 3 5 9 1 8 5 7
Availability 7 5 8 8 7 7 8
Aesthetics 3 7 2 1 6 7 2
Flexibility 2 7 2 1 8 7 2
Weight 9 2 8 9 3 6 9
Total 40 42 48 40 41 47 48

Using our decision matrix, recycled material and grow bag was found to be the best choice for our planter material

Produce Decision Matrix

Consideration Root Tubers Stalks Onions Garlic Salad
Peas &
Hot/Humid Summers Dep Dep na. na. na. Dep
Late Frost Date Dep na. Dep na. na. na. na. Dep
Height <1.5 ft ✓✓ ✓✓ ✓✓ X X X Dep ✓✓
Spread <6 in. X Dep ✓✓ X X Dep
Root Length <6 in. X X ✓✓ X X Dep Dep
Watering Med High Med High Med Low Low Dep Med High Med

Lab Reports


Lab 1 (1/7/14): Red tag certification and overview of machinery and tools available

Lab 2 (1/21/14): Research and Brainstorm

Lab 3 (1/28/14): Design and construct a window frame prototype as a testing area for the hanging garden.

Noe and Rachel cutting the wood panels into the right dimensions for the window prototype.

Nathan and John measuring thicker wooden panels in order to compensate for the wet, damaged wood originally intended for use.

Lab 4 (2/4/14): Finished building the window prototype and began designing the various “hanging garden” ideas the team developed out of common household materials, such as plastic bottles and t-shirts.

Window prototype complete
T-shirt design

Lab 5 (2/11/14): Test the strength of the t-shirt design by adding mock weight to the sacks, but also experiment with pulleys as a second possible design.

Testing the pulley system by attaching the planter to the wooden backing of the window prototype. Note: we found that the pulleys provided no mechanical advantage and therefore they were useless and we moved away from this design.

Noe and John adjust the t-shirt design. Note: this design was scraped because the large growing area would result in a very heavy planter. Also, the complexity of hinging on the window sill without damaging or permanently altering the sill pushed us away from this design.

Lab 6 (2/18/14): Determine how to attach the hanging garden planters to the window prototype, by welding together L-brackets and drilling holes into the three separate planters.

Rachel drilling holes into the planters in order to hang the containers off the window prototype

Up-close view of the two L-brackets. The far L-bracket is welded correctly and flush with the wood where as the close L-bracket was welded incorrectly which results in the bracket not sitting perfectly flush– the only implication of this error should be an asthetic one.

Close-up view of the L-brackets with three eyelets for each planter rope. Note: seperate rope systems for each planter was chosen because if one continuous rope was used for all three planters, when you go to lift up the planters to tend to them the attachments to the first planters would prevent you from pulling the rope all the way up through the eyelets.

Demonstrating pulling up the planter to the window sill in order to tend to your plants.
Demonstrating how the planter can sit on the window sill; easy access is a priority for the finished product. Note: We are adding carabeaner clips to create a removable attachment between the rope and planter.

Our design so far–A work in progress. Note: we plan to add a simple self-watering, gravity feed drip system.

Lab #7:(2/25/14) Construct a watering/drainage system for the three planters and brainstorm ways to incorporate an efficient drip system- must be created out of affordable material and simple to use

Designed a drip system made from PVC pipes in order to hold shape and reach each individual planter. As you can see, the pipes extend over each plant and restrict growth. Next-up: designing an easier water system with a cup or bowl to pour water into each plant.

Utilizing an elastic hair tie to connect the PVC pipe device to the L-bracket. Note: we dismissed this mechanism as a means of connection due to its high flexibility and inability to align the pipes to their designated planter.

Lab #8 (3/4/14) Test ideas utilizing flexible material, drip tubing, as means for a watering/drainage system for the hanging garden.

Drilling small holes into the three tubes in order to replicate a water drip system

Sealing the hole connecting the drip tubing to the central water hub

Drilled seven tiny holes into each planter to allow drainage

Mock testing the drip tubing
Connecting the three tubes to their designated planter to finalize the drip system

Lab #9:(3/11/14) Finalize the overall design by adding the carebeaners to the top of the hanging garden, filling the planters with weight, and flushing water through the drip system to replicate real life use.

Added carebeaners to planter for easy detachment.


Use scrap metal as weight and pour water through system to act as mock trial.
Horizontal view of hanging garden from above


Our final project: complete



Going forward with this project, there are a few things that need to be considered. First, the design has to utilize a more rigid frame if it is to be placed in upper levels of apartments. Currently wind will hit the wall and blow upwards, moving the planters and potentially displacing the contents. Second, the water container has to be modified. We ended with a rough prototype of what we planned, but it does what it needs to. Ideally, the container itself would be attached to one of the exterior brackets so as not to disrupt window movement. Third, some kind of water catchment device has to be developed for the bottom of the garden. We thought about, recognized the necessity of one, but never were able to make it. There are other small tweaks that could be made, but the rigid frame, water container, and water catchment are the big three. After our meeting with Z Living Systems, we determined that our design is on track with vertical gardens currently on the market. That being said, the flexibility our design offers is something completely new.

Conceptual Diagrams

Living Wall Diagrams [Converted].jpg


Meet the Team

(from left to right)
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Nathan Goei: 4th year, Architecture student interested in sustainable systems and sleep
John Franzino: 5th year Materials Engineering student interested in bringing sustainable practices and ideology to the mainstream
Noe Klein:
4th year, Modern Languages & Literatures student who loves traveling and singing in the shower.
Jesse Gibson: 2nd year, Environmental Management & Protection student working on opening a food cart on campus
Rachel Bourland: 3rd year, Business Administration- Finance student who enjoys the beach and her cat

Group Interventions

Rachel Bourland: No cell-phone for a week nocellphone.gif

  • no communication with others through the phone

  • no distractions from incoming e-mails & notifications

  • no social media

  • no use of various phone applications such as Instagram, Snapchat, games, and flashlight app.

Lesson Learned: Although at first it was tough to accept not having phone access, as days progressed, I realized when confronted with obstacles/new situations, the mind adapts to accept the new changes. I noticed new levels of relaxation and independence, in which I was devoted to making time for others and myself rather than check my phone constantly and be bothered by incoming notifications. Without a cellphone, I was more open to make plans with others through face to face contact and spend more of my energy efficiently.

Long-Term: I look forward to limiting my cell-phone usage throughout the rest of my life to divert focus onto things that matter in my life rather than waste energy checking my phone for updates.

Nathan Goei: No showers for a week

Although this may be considered unsanitary by societal standards, I’m interested in how removing showers from my daily routine will affect my mornings as well as my interactions with others. For me, I’ve been told from a young age to shower at least once a day, sometimes more if I was particularly active. Over the course of my life, there have been several occasions where I haven’t showered for a few days, whether it was due to lack of access or just personal laziness. I have never gone a week without showering, especially when I have easy access to a shower. From this intervention I hope to see how it feels to go out in public completely unwashed and if that changes any interactions and from an energy view point I will be decreasing my water usage dramatically.
Lesson Learned: This might be a bad sign for my personal hygiene, but I found this intervention easier than I thought I would. The only hard part was in the morning my regular routine would kick in and I would have to mentally check myself to stop from hopping in the shower. After that it was easy. Occasionally I would feel dirty or sticky, but those feelings were infrequent and short lasting. My biggest surprise was a lack of change in interactions with others, especially my roommates. From what I could tell, the only visual sign I wasn’t showering was my hair which was flattened on one side, but due to its length, I guess it wasn’t that noticeable. To sum this intervention up, I learned that a daily shower might not be necessary, especially if you have low activity levels, but I also learned that a daily shower is really nice and I wouldn’t be able to do this regularly.

Jesse Gibson: No anti-bacterial or other chemical-based hygiene products for a month and take military showers for a week

I recently read “All My Friends are Germs” by Michael Pollan for my Food Customs and Culture class. The essay informed me about the importance of our bodies’ internal ecosystem and microbial activity and its effect on our health. They attributed Western society’s unhealthy and homogenized gut to our indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture and anti-bacterial soap around the home. This reminded me of my professor Dr. Ritter, who told our class that he doesn’t use soap or shampoo when he showers explaining that those products strip the skin of beneficial bacteria. This was an absurd and unconscionable concept for most students in class but intrigued me. That’s why my intervention is to go a month without any chemical-based hygiene products (body soap, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, face wash, etc.). The only concession I’m making is contact solution because my eyes are something I’m not willing to experiment with, whereas potentially stinking for a week is something I can live with.

Noe Klein: Drink the recommended 6-8 glasses of H2O a day. No coffee, juice, soda, alcohol etc.
I noticed how many interventions were living without something for a week and I felt like that was deprivation. So instead, I’ve been switching out juice, coffee, soda etc. for water and making sure that I’m drinking the 6-8 recommended glasses per day. I’m curious how this will change my health. So far the tea /coffee (since I usually have one or the other in the afternoon/evening so I can stay up and continue working) and the alcohol (as I generally drink a glass of wine with dinner) have been the most challenging. I have definitely failed several times.

John Franzino: Stop Using Disposable Paper Products (excluding toilet paper)
I have always recognized paper towel use as such a waste. Then when I asked to do an intervention I realized that paper towels are not just a waste, but a waste that I could easily eliminate. I started my intervention right away with great success; it was just as easy to eliminate this source of waste as I thought. Now when cooking or doing dishes I simply use a wash cloth. I am able to throw in the additional clothes with loads of laundry I would do anyway so using the clothes has very little environmental impact, as opposed to going through a roll of paper towels every two days. Since I have stopped buying paper towels I have realized that my roommates seem to be using them less as well. The only time it is hard not to use disposable paper products is when eating out. For example, at a conference I recently attended lunches were provided in paper boxes with sandwiches wrapped in paper with a side of napkins; needless to say I used paper products then.