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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Moss walls: the new way to bring nature indoors

If you're considering more greenery for your interior, a moss wall could give it a stunning, natural dimension – and it is stress free.
Green Dunes by the architect Aldo Cibic was on display at last year's Downtown Design. Courtesy Blumohito
Green Dunes by the architect Aldo Cibic was on display at last year's Downtown Design. Courtesy Blumohito

Vertical gardens – or living walls as they are sometimes, more-poetically, called – have become all the rage in recent years. A lush layer of greenery extending across a vertical plane, they are the perfect antidote to our concrete-ridden urban environments.

Whether creeping up the walls of private homes and apartments, or shrouding the exteriors of London’s Athenaeum Hotel, Paris’s Musée du Quai Branly or Caixa­Forum in Madrid, vertical gardens have become a way for people living in built-up areas to connect with nature, and for those who do not have the luxury of a garden to enjoy the calming effects of greenery in their homes.

On February 25, New Zealand’s Wellington became one of the latest cities to acknowledge the benefits of having living walls in public spaces, with the Wellington City Council unveiling a 24-square-metre vertical garden in the city’s Civic Square. The aim is to inspire building owners and developers across the city to follow suit.

“The wall strengthens the urban-nature links in our central city,” said Wellington’s mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, to mark the occasion. “Civic Square was chosen as the first location due to its high profile and challenging conditions, to show that green walls can succeed in Wellington like they do in London and Singapore.”

When done right, vertical gardens can be one of the most stunning design features in your home. They look fantastic, smell great and will help to naturally purify the air. What’s more, incorporating natural elements into your interior is a key trend for 2015, so this is a sure-fire way of ensuring your home is ahead of the design curve.

But, like any living thing, vertical gardens can be tricky. They are expensive to install and require specialist expertise and materials – you’ll need an inbuilt watering system and don’t want to cut any corners when it comes to waterproofing, or you’ll end up doing some serious damage to your supporting wall. And, once up, your vertical garden will require a whole lot of love and attention. Frankly, this is not a recommended exercise for any but the most green-fingered and dedicated of gardeners.

Luckily, for those who are set on introducing more greenery into their homes (but who are also self-aware enough to realise that they may not be up to the challenge of a vertical garden), there is a more practical option to consider – the moss wall.

Visitors to last year’s edition of Downtown Design may recall Green Dunes, the unique piece of “moss art” adorning the entrance to the exhibition. The 4.8-metre by 2.6-metre piece was created by the architect Aldo Cibic in association with Blumohito, an Italian producer of high-quality moss walls. The wall has since made an appearance at La Galerie Nationale in Al Quoz. For this showpiece, Cibic combined moss with sand sourced in the UAE to create a larger-than-life example of the design potential of this most unlikely of materials.

“We wanted to create a piece of art,” explains Blumohito’s export manager, Sergio Visona. “We had worked with Aldo Cibic on other things and decided to work with him again to create something out of moss for Downtown Design. We wanted to play with the idea of the desert and the oasis and a mirage. It is our tri­bute to Dubai.”

In fact, moss wall is something of a misnomer. Blumohito uses cladonia arbuscula, which although sometimes referred to as reindeer moss because it is a favoured caribou food source, is in fact a lichen. Blumohito’s official term for the material, once treated and mounted onto panels, is Smart Acoustic Green (Sag) technology.

The lichen, which is sourced in Sweden and Norway, undergoes a special stabilisation process at the company’s headquarters in Vicenza, which includes bathing it in a “secret soup”, Visona explains. This paraffin-based material is absorbed by the roots of the cladonia and keeps it looking fresh and feeling soft. The lichen is then attached to a sound-dampening layer, which is, in turn, glued to a base layer made from renewably farmed plywood. The whole process, from picking and trimming the raw material to attaching it to its base layer, is completed by hand. According to Visona, Blumohito uses about 35 per cent more raw material to create its walls, ma­king the company’s installations more lush and dense than those of its competitors.

As Green Dunes so artfully demonstrates, there are infinite design possibilities when it comes to Sag technology. As part of the stabilisation process, the cladonia can also be exposed to a variety of natural dyes, meaning the product is available in a range of colours, from bright yellow and aubergine to the red-toned Fragola. These different shades can be combined to create random patterns, or can be used to create custom-designs – company logos, for example.

If you’d rather keep things natural-looking, there are four different greens to choose from: Avocado, Lime, Flag and the pale-toned Tortora, which is the lichen’s natural hue. We’d argue that moss walls are most striking when left in their natural green-coloured state, a point proven at Abu Dhabi’s twofour54, where Blumohito recently installed a six-metre-wide, transparent, vertical water feature enclosed within a lime-green Sag frame. A 200-square-metre Sag wall is also on the cards for the Etihad Airways training centre in Abu Dhabi.

Beyond aesthetics, the beauty of the moss wall is that it hardly requires any upkeep. The lichen feeds on moisture and other particles in the air and does not require any photo-stimulation, so you don’t have to worry about watering or adjusting light levels. What’s more, Sag walls absorb sound, repel dust (so are naturally self-cleaning) and can be attached to any surface. Prices start at about Dh2,500 per square metre, according to Mohsin Jawaheri, the founder of Dubai’s Superstudio, an authorised dealer of Sag technology in the UAE.

The only thing you do need to worry about is keeping your moss wall out of direct sunlight and in a room where humidity levels are at about 40 to 50 per cent. It should not be placed directly next to air-conditioning units, fan coils or direct heat sources.

“It cannot be placed outdoors and the air cannot be too dry – but don’t forget, if the conditions are bad for the moss, they are probably bad for you,” says Visona. “People love the flexibility of the product – it looks good, there are so many colour options, it absorbs sound and there is zero maintenance. It is also very calming; you get to bring nature indoors, without having to worry about maintenance. And it is around 40 to 50 per cent cheaper than a vertical garden.”

sdenman@thenational.ae