A New Lease on Life for the Living Wall at the World Trade Center
Particularly discerning Lower Manhattan residents have noted of late that an amenity hiding in plain sight seemed to be in danger of disappearing. For those who take the time to notice, the “living wall” at the World Trade Center is a unique combination of horticulture and architecture—a vertical garden that stretches 336 feet between West and Greenwich Street, and reaches 25 feet high, doubling as the wall of Liberty Park, the elevated greensward atop the complex’s vehicular security center.
When it debuted in 2016, the wall contained more than 22,000 seedlings, consisting of evergreen ground cover and flowering perennials. While these appeared to be a single, continuous landscape (albeit, one tilted by 90 degrees), they were actually rooted in 826 boxed panels mounted on metal racks invisible to observers and divided into an 18-zone drip irrigation system. The cumulative effective offered a slow-motion riot of color and texture, year-round.
Shortly after the start of this year, contractors began removing the panels, leading to fears that the Living Wall had been sentenced to death. Perish the thought. “Rest assured: the living wall isn’t going anywhere,” say Steve Burns, a spokesman for the Port Authority, which controls the World Trade Center site. “It’s getting an upgrade. The plants will thrive with a new, innovative soilless system, ensuring this unique green space remains a vibrant part of the World Trade Center.”
The Port Authority began testing a soilless system on the wall in 2022 and 2023. These trials demonstrated higher plant survival rates, as well as reduced operating and maintenance costs. This led to a redesign of the system, which is now being deployed over the full wall. The Port Authority, which has budgeted $850,000 for the project, expects it to be complete by this summer.
The Living Wall was one of the first U.S. rollouts of a new environmental push known as “green walls,” itself an extension of the earlier “green roof” movement. Among the environmental benefits cited by advocates, green walls can lower air temperatures both indoors and out, improve energy efficiency by insulating the structures they clad, boost air quality, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and reduce noise pollution by acting as an acoustic sponge. As a bonus, the structures are also known to provide habitats for birds and insects, which can be scarce in the hardscrabble urban environments.