Biodiversity Green Wall Restoration

Executive Summary:

Spearheaded and designed by the Green Futures Lab with funding from the CSF, the UW Biodiversity Green Wall was completed in the fall of 2012, transforming two blank concrete walls into lush urban habitat. Located in the southeast corner of Gould Hall on 15th Avenue and NE 40th Street, the award-winning project has been widely publicized and has the potential to provide numerous benefits such as reducing building energy needs, mitigating heat island effects, conserving potable water, reducing stormwater pollution, and increasing urban biodiversity.

Early 2019, the required irrigation system for the Biodiversity Green Wall (Green Wall) malfunctioned and has not been able to be repaired. Consequently, there has been 100% mortality of the plantings on the wall, despite considerable effort to keep them alive over the summer by hand watering. Most recently, Covid-19 has barred progress and efforts to get the Green Wall up and running again.


Since Fall of 2020 we have been engaging in conversations with Green Wall stakeholders, including UW Facilities, UW Grounds, PAE Engineering, and TRANE Engineering to deduce issues and determine solutions. PAE was able to determine that there was a communication malfunction between the controller and the transducer electrical systems, resulting in the failure of the potable backup water system. Unfortunately, Covid delayed any further investigations.

There is strong renewed desire in getting the irrigation system functioning again, and the Green Wall planted before students return to campus this coming Autumn term. We have had reputable mechanical engineers troubleshoot the Green Wall System to assess what needs to happen in terms of mechanical and electrical fixes to get it up and running again. Although there is some indication that the controller is working, the wires within the system are not colored according to industry standard and documentation on the system is missing, so PAE Engineering has recommended to us to replace everything (controller, transducer, wiring, and user interface) with a simpler system.  While we are hoping to repair rather than replace the system, we have been advised that the labor to diagnose and repair could be a similar cost to replacing it with a better, more straightforward system and so are using the quote we have received for that in this proposal.  However, we are continuing our consultation from other experts. 


Once the Green Wall irrigation system has been repaired, we will begin replanting efforts which will require replacing the soil and plants. We have worked with Solterra Solutions in the past and will seek a similarly qualified company and prioritize using Pacific Northwest native plants. Plants from the UW SER nursery will also be sought. Re-design and planting efforts will be student-led, with current Green Futures Lab Manager Emma Petersen taking the lead. We are also looking into long-term maintenance solutions to ensure the continued success of the Green Wall and its critical water harvest and irrigation system. While all organization of the project will be student-led, the Green Wall requires the mechanical engineering expertise and continuity of maintenance by professionals who will be able to adequately oversee the unique, sustainable irrigation system, as well as the plant survival and health;  we expect these to be two different entities. We have reached out to Campus Stewardship to hopefully provide plant and irrigation system stewardship in the future, but in the meantime we anticipate needing outside expertise and so have included line items in this budget to fund a water system overseer for one year, and likewise, for plant establishment and maintenance for one year.


The Biodiversity Green Wall has proven to be an invaluable resource and asset to the College of Built Environments, the University of Washington, and the surrounding community,  but currently the Green Wall is not able to provide any of its prior sustainable and educational services. We feel very strongly that repairing and renewing the Green Wall is a priority for the College of Built Environments, Department of Landscape Architecture, and the UW Green Futures Lab and its revival will be a happy symbol of better times when students return in the autumn.

Student Involvement:

Student involvement for the Biodiversity Green Wall peaked during the design and construction portion of the project. Students logged over an estimated 1,350 hours working on design, coordination, construction, documentation, monitoring and dissemination. The Green Wall has been an integral part of the College of Built Environments and Department of Landscape Architecture as a learning tool and will continue to do so, should it be renewed, providing ample opportunities for students to use the wall as a research tool. 

Current Graduate Student and Green Futures Lab Student Manager Emma Petersen will be leading the effort to repair the irrigation system and replant the Green Wall over Spring and Summer 2021. She will operate as the main point of contact between different stakeholders and coordinate any activities needed to help renew the Green Wall. This offers her a chance to develop skills in project management, construction, campus coordination, maintenance, research, and leadership of peers, UW staff and a contractor. Emma will be graduating from the UW this Spring and wrapping up her Green Futures Lab duties this summer. After we search for and find a suitable replacement candidate, Emma will work closely with the new Green Futures Lab manager over the summer so they can learn the project management skills necessary to oversee the maintenance organization of the Green Wall. This person will be in close contact with the professional maintenance steward and be the main point of contact for any communication surrounding the Green Wall. 

Students will also be able to take part in installing Green Wall plants this summer following all UW Covid-19 protocols. Emma Petersen will take the lead on the new design scheme for the Green Wall, potentially with help from other landscape architecture students and the new Green Futures Lab manager. After the Green Wall has been repaired and replanted, students will be invited to use the Green Wall as a case study and a research tool once again. 

Overall, the Green Wall repair will create two job opportunities for students to learn valuable project management experience, and an undetermined amount of volunteer opportunities in the future.

Education & Outreach:

The College of Built Environments houses over 700 students and 185 faculty/staff in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, Construction Management, and Real-Estate - all disciplines that directly benefit from the educational and research components of the Green Wall. Because of its ecological and stormwater benefits, the Green Wall also has the potential to appeal to the Engineering Departments as well as the College of the Environment. With its proximity to the main campus and Schmitz Hall, the Green Wall has the potential to be a stopping point along guided Campus Tours, reaching out to prospective students as well as demonstrating UW’s commitment to sustainability. Students will have the opportunity to research and monitor the Biodiversity Green Wall and present their findings in various courses as well as co-publish and present this research at conferences and in academic publications. Because of its online documentation, the Biodiversity Green Wall has the potential to be a role model for other Design Colleges and Universities across the country as a showcase of sustainability and a display of integrated interdisciplinary work. The Green Wall aligns with the goals of the College of Built Environment to integrate sustainability for a “tangible improvement of built and natural environments.”

We have some remaining funds from our last round of CSF funding which is budgeted to create educational signage. We are still planning on creating this signage for the enjoyment of students and passersby once the wall is functional again.

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
  • Water
Project Longevity:

Project longevity is very important to us. We have already proven that the Green Wall can be constructed and successful but none of that necessarily matters unless the Green Wall continues to live and operate on the side of Gould Hall. As stated before, in order to prevent irrigation and system failure issues in the future we believe our best option is to hire  a professional with mechanical and electrical engineering expertise to ensure that the water system is functional and easily understood. Therefore have included a line item in this budget to fund this maintenance professional for one year. UW Grounds has indicated that they are not able to provide the irrigation scheduling and oversight or plant maintenance so we have also included a line item to hire an outside landscape contractor. In the future we will look to the Campus Stewardship Office for further financial assistance for ongoing stewardship. While we try to include student involvement wherever possible in this project, the unfortunate reality is that students move on after a few years and do not necessarily have the expertise to oversee the necessary mechanical, electrical, irrigation or plant health aspects of the Green Wall. Hiring  professionals to oversee the Green Wall maintenance will ensure system failure does not occur again, and that the plantings on the wall will thrive and continue to provide their environmental benefits.  Leadership from the Campus Sustainability Fund, with long-term knowledge of the project, is also making this recommendation.

Environmental Problem:

The Biodiversity Green Wall has proven to successfully address several environmental problems in one holistic system.  Issues of native habitat destruction, interrupted food webs, polluted stormwater runoff, carbon reliance, urban heat island effects, water consumption and waste, climate changing conditions, and atmospheric impacts are addressed through the multiple components of the demonstration project. Additionally, the project will explore variations of the aesthetics of “green” technologies, as well as maintaining and budgeting for sustainable systems.  

Located at Gould Hall and populated with local and native herbaceous and evergreen plants, the Biodiversity Green Wall harvests rooftop water diverted into a “living wall”, providing native habitat, rainwater reuse, stormwater volume runoff reduction and water quality improvements.  The Green Wall provides vertical habitat, potentially assists with building insulation and summer cooling (reducing costs, energy use and carbon emissions), and provides educational and aesthetic opportunities for students, faculty and staff. The Green Wall addresses several aspects of sustainability outlined in the UW Climate Action Plan including water recycling, sustainable land use planning, sustainable and local food production, energy and carbon footprint reduction, and UW green marketing and branding efforts.  

The Green Wall is a small scale project, acting as a working model to educate, inform and excite the campus community about “green” technologies and test the capacity of these systems to address multiple sustainability issues.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Building Performance:  The 200+ buildings on campus depend on large amounts of energy, which is correlated to both global climate and local heat island effects. Rising energy costs during the current financial crisis may need to be paid with increased tuition. Our initial research, funded by a UW Green Seed grant, showed that the area behind the Green Wall did experience a cooling effect which in turn reduces building cooling costs in the summer. Research also indicated mollification of the heat island effect near to the vegetation on the wall. The Varey Garden as a whole benefits from the Green Wall’s mitigation of the urban heat island effect. 

Water Consumption:  With a reliably-functioning water harvest and irrigation system, we will be able to track the amount of potable water use that the water harvesting system provides. Existing flow sensors in the system, and digital tracking allows researchers to quantify these benefits.  Also, the water sensors built into the irrigation system will allow quantification of the stormwater that is prevented from entering the city’s drainage system from the impermeable roof surface of Gould.  With over 325 acres of impermeable surfaces on campus (UW Salmon-Safe-Assessment, 2010), and a significant percentage of irrigated landscaping, data from the Biodiversity Green Wall could be useful to project water bill cost savings and gallons of water reused.

Biodiversity:  Campus and urban development degrades native terrestrial habitat, interrupting food webs and local landscape ecologies.  The Biodiversity Green Wall has researched the potentials for vertical surfaces to serve as biodiversity corridors and feed native seed banks. We have carefully documented the plants grown on the wall, identifying those that are most successful to grow in this situation, and documenting the value of native drought-tolerant species.  In our “UW Green-Seed” - funded research we made over 600 hours of observation on the wall, verifying its use by insects and birds.  Dark-eyed juncos nested on the wall, successfully raising at least one brood of chicks. 

Human Delight:  Because the Biodiversity Green Wall is within view of passers-by on 15th Ave., from users of the new Population Health Building, users of the Varey Garden, and those in the Green Futures Lab, students will have the opportunity to assess human response to the Green Wall through sociological and perceptual studies.  Such Nature + Health studies will help inform campus staff of the value of these green new technologies, and the potential to visually educate and inspire the campus community.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $40,570
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


We have been advised that the Campus Technology Fee funds could be applied to the Water Harvesting Upgrade / Repair and Maintena
ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
(TRANE controls) Controller/Water System Replacement and/or Repair + Servicing$18,130
(TRANE controls) Service 4 quarterly on site inspections Monthly remote inspection$7,920
Transducer, Sensors, Irrigation Components$600
Student Management (2)$24 hr. w/ benefits120 hours 60 hours = 180 hours$4,320
Plants + Soils$6,000
Plant Maintenance and Irrigation Oversight$300/month12$3,600

Non-CSF Sources:

Project Completion Total:


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Define Irrigation & System IssuesNow05/31/2021
Replace Controller, Transducer, Wiring, System Interface as neededSpring 202106/30/2021
Redesign planting schemeSummer 202108/31/2021
Resoil and replant wallSummer 202108/31/2022
Water System inspections - 1 year2021-202208/31/2022
Maintenance and Irrigation Stewardship - 1 year2021-202208/31/2022