domingo, 14 de setembro de 2008

«VERTICAL IS THE WAY TO GO»: os Jardins Verticais de Patrick Blanc

in Financial Times, Margaret Kemp, 8 de Março de 2008

«Patrick Blanc, creator of Vertical Gardens, a system of growing plants without soil, is dressed from head to toe as a jolly green giant. "I've looked like this for the last 30 years," he admits, running long fingernails through leaf-green highlighted hair. "I used to get strange looks, but everyone's into wacky colour now."

We sit in Les Ombres, the roof-top restaurant at the Jean Nouvel-designed Quai Branly museum in Paris. Located opposite the Eiffel Tower, Branly was commissioned by Jacques Chirac to showcase the indigenous arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Blanc's vertical garden, covering the museum's administrative buildings and theatre, is visible in the distance. We order lunch. "No water for me, that's for the plants," he tells the waiter. "I'd love a bottle of Meursault please."

Blanc explains: "My theory is that when architecture and plants are integrated on a truly massive scale, the city takes on a whole new angle." He believes there is no end to the locations that could use his help: parking lots, train stations, the metro, "those difficult spaces where you don't expect to see greenery". What excites Blanc "is reintegrating nature where one least expects it. We live more and more in cities and plant walls have a future for the well-being of urbanites. Forget horizontal, vertical is the future," he insists.

Blanc's creations, richly illustrated in the book Vertical Gardens: Bringing the City to Life , range from outdoor cityscapes to indoor living rooms. "The city and its inhabitants can only benefit from this movement. The vogue for green walls is a positive sign," say the book's authors, Anna Lambertini and Jacques Leenhardt.

"It's easy, anyone can do it," Blanc winks. He explains that to ensure the vegetated exterior wall of, say, the Quai Branly museum remains stable and weatherproof, two layers of felt are attached to PVC plastic sheeting. This is fixed to a metal framework, providing an air-space between the wall and plant. The felt layer retains water fed from a drip irrigation system and provides a good micro-environment for plants, while a gutter is installed at the bottom to collect residue. Nothing needs trimming and the density of the planting stops weeds sprouting.

But surely growing plants out of a wall is too heavy for the structure? Not according to Blanc, who takes his inspiration from years of research in the world's jungles and rainforests. "The weight of the Vertical Garden, including plants and metal frame, is less than 30kg per sq metre. A garden can be installed on any wall, without any size limitation."

For big spaces, the cost is about €600 per sq metre, plus labour. For a smaller area of 40 sq metres, this increases to €1,200 a sq metre. "Smaller spaces are more complex," says Blanc, who has patented his Vertical Gardens and is aware of imitations. "I don't mind though. Imitation is a form of flattery, no?"

Installations are carried out by a team of gardeners and Blanc takes a percentage of the overall cost as salary. "I'm always on site to see what's happening," he says. Looking down at the restaurant's carpet, he cringes at the sight of his own damp, muddy footprints. "I've just come from Rue d'Alsace, the biggest project I've ever created, and most of it is on Les Ombres' floor!" Blanc, a town boy, grew up in the Parisian suburb of Suresnes, in an apartment with no garden. He always loved plants and a teenage trip to an international horticultural exhibition was the catalyst of an award-winning future in botany and science.

Holidays were spent collecting rare plants and fish (for his aquarium) in exotic places. "In the tropics I discovered how hanging plants grow from the top down at cave entrances and don't always have to grow upward," he says.

A recent Paris exhibition of Blanc's work, Folie Végétale, included some of his experimental designs in growing plant ceilings. Blanc admits his laboratory/experimental garden, at home in Créteil, resembles The Day of the Triffids . "It's getting too small," he chuckles. "We're over-run with plants, books and my 600 shirts."

And does he talk to the plants? His eyes roll skywards as he says: "They've got their lif, I've got mine; we don't really speak the same language."

We leave the restaurant to study his Branly wall close up. Construction began in 2004, with 15,000 plants representing 150 different species.

"I'm only interested in plants that grow with roots attached to surfaces. In their struggle for light, plants learn how to live together, generating astonishing strategies to adapt, inventing their own forms and behaviours," he says, lovingly rubbing green and purple herbs and shoots. Passers-by stop, smile and stare, fascinated at this living botanical catalogue.

Leaving Blanc to his wall and walking home, I notice how naked the buildings on the wide avenues seem. It's obvious there's no end to the work ahead for the jolly green giant.»

FOTOS: Jardim vertical no Musée du Quai Branly em Paris

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