PhD defence: Ann-Charlott Eriksen

Ann-Charlott Eriksen defends her thesis,

Into the green facades.
Values ascribed to a popular cultural phenomenon in contemporary urban development.

Associate Professor Svava Riesto, IGN
Professor Marina Bergen Jensen, IGN

Assessment Committee:
Professor Anne Katrine Geelmuyden, Institutt for landskapsarkitektur, NMBU - Norge
Associate Professor René van der Velde, Landscape Architecture, TU Delft - The Netherlands
Professor Gertrud Jørgensen (chair), IGN

The green facade is popular in contemporary architecture and urban development. Designing green facades by combining living plants and building facades materializes the idea of using ‘nature’ to help cities reduce the impact on global challenges such as climate change and loss of biodiversity. Green facades have been adopted by different practitioners, not least architects and urban planners, as well as several researchers, both as a physical object and as an idea. However, the narratives accompanying the green facades seem to be inevitably positive and loaded with unsubstantiated expectations of green facades ensuring a significant contribution to resilient and sustainable green urban development. The lack of critical reflections and apparent unanimous agreement of a positive narrative across professional disciplines prompted this study. Without a critical and reflected approach it is assumed that insights and knowledge generation, important to inform city design and planning research and practice, is prevented. The aim of this study was to unfold the values ascribed to green facades within practice and research, and thus bring forward a clearer and more nuanced understanding of the roles and potentials of green facades in contemporary urban development. Based on a case study of an architectural competition for an urban redevelopment project with strict requirements regarding green facades, I found that intentions may be conflicting and that the green facades are negotiated between different values and interests at multiple scales. Further, to prepare for a more precise discussion of the potential contribution of green facades to green urban development I conducted a review of research literature. The review suggested that green facade research falls into five clusters: green facades are conceptualized as systems for environmental regulation, technical features of buildings, contributors to biodiversity and ecology, enhancers of beauty, and economic and political actors. I observed that the green facade as a concept seems to exist across disciplines, contexts and scales. Finally, to reveal mechanisms behind powerful narratives of green facades, I examined presentations in architectural publications. Specifically, the iconic ‘Vertical Garden’ at Caixa Forum in Madrid was scrutinized. Presentations exalted this green facade as particularly spectacular, ecological and as a living piece of art work. To put the ‘Vertical Garden’ into perspective, I examined green facades from the everyday landscape of Copenhagen through photography, and directed attention to different characteristics of green facade aesthetics. The findings of this thesis contribute to design, planning and policy-making practices in Denmark and abroad, as well as to the literature concerned with green facades specifically, and the role of plants and vegetations as part of the built environment of contemporary cities more broadly. It concludes that the green facade is multivalent: ascribed different roles and values across research and practice that have implications for the design and planning of green cities. Finally, this thesis suggests that future research examine the aesthetic diversity of green facades and seek to provide different modes to understand plants in cities.

The thesis is available for inspection at the PhD administration office