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Iconic Biowall Installation Reconfigured for Optimal Sustainability and Maintenance

October 07 2021

A rendering of what the Biowall could look like in its updated form in the future. Renderings courtesy Intravision, which is also providing the new lights.

For those Dragons returning to the Drexel University City Campus this fall and visiting the Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building (PISB), something inside might look a little different from what they remember.

The Biowall — that 22-foot- wide, 80-foot-tall functional wall of air-purifying plants that proudly stands in the building’s lobby— has been undergoing renovations since August. The five-story plant wall has been removed (some plants found new homes with Drexel faculty and professional staff) while work is done to install a new lighting system, waterproofing and water filtration system this fall term. An assortment of lowlight tropical plants will be reinstated in the winter term. 

2021 is the 10-year anniversary of the installation of the Biowall, and the structure was, at that time, North America’s largest living biofilter and the first and only one installed at a university in the U.S. After 10 years of service, it was time for both updates and repairs.

“This year, Drexel’s Climate Year, is a particularly appropriate time to renew this symbol of the University’s commitment to sustainability,” noted Drexel University Architect Nancy Rogo Trainer.  

Updates will help conserve water, better support plant growth, and make the wall easier to maintain. A custom LED lighting system is being installed to project an even wash of light over the structure to promote plant health, and the original Biowall system is being replaced with an updated living wall system. Instead of the constant trickle of water required by the original system, the new EcoWall panelized system requires watering only twice a day for approximately ten minutes each session. 

Though pandemic-related supply chain issues have created some delays in receiving parts, such as microchip and sensors to the fabrication of lighting fixtures, at the time of publication, the bulk of the work — like the installation of the lights, water system and wood panels — is expected to be completed by the end of October. The plants should be installed by the end of February.

“We’re putting in a panelized plant system this time so the maintenance will be easier moving forward,” said University Real Estate and Facilities Director of Design Kimberly Miller. “If we have to remove a section, it will be easier to get to it. We’ve done a lot of work with the design including a new retractable lift to improve access to the plants for ease of maintenance. And we’re choosing plant material that requires less water, making it more sustainable. It’s just going to be a better system overall for us.”