The south wall of the city's new Lumberworks parking garage is grim and barren, a concrete outline of the three stories of parking bordered by a jumble of power transformers and switching devices.
But by the end of the decade, much of that wall should be a tapestry of vines and plants, a literal "green wall."
The city is installing a green wall that will provide environmental as well as aesthetic benefits for the garage that sits between O and N streets near the viaduct in the West Haymarket.
The green wall, like a green roof, is designed to slow and cool rainwater as it heads for nearby streams, said Dennis Scheer, a landscape architect with Clark Enersen Partners.
And that is a good thing for the health of streams and rivers, particularly in urban areas where concrete has replaced the bare earth that helped slow down and cleanse rainwater in the past, he said.
The plants also help filter pollutants out of the air. That is particularly helpful with a garage, where the photosynthesis of the plant material will help remove the carbon from exhaust fumes, and release oxygen, Scheer said.
A green wall will also help to cool the building itself, protecting it from the sun’s heat, said Wayne Mixdorf, parking manager for the city.
Research has shown that these theoretical assumptions are true and that green walls have environmental advantages, Scheer said.
Green walls are sometimes called biowalls, ecowalls, vertical gardens or living walls. However green walls and living walls are actually two distinct kinds of walls, Scheer said.
Living walls generally are interior walls covered with living plants and used in conjunction with the heating and cooling systems of buildings to purify, or better filter, the air.
The Lumberworks Garage will have a green wall, with plants growing on an exterior wall of the building.
The green wall, when it has grown out in three to four years, will also provide for an attractive view in what is now an unattractive setting, including a Lincoln Electric System substation along N Street.
LES will install a decorative fence along the sidewalk to help screen the substation, and combined with the green wall, it will create a “really nice view,” Scheer said.
The Lumberworks Garage will be the second green wall in the downtown area, joining the University of Nebraska-Lincoln parking garage near 17th and Vine streets, Scheer said.
Sampson Construction, the contractor for the newly opened parking garage, will put in planters, metal cables and mesh along the wall this spring. Then hardy plant species expected to survive in the Nebraska climate will be planted.
Many will be plants designed to grow in Minnesota and North Dakota, just to be certain they will survive a Nebraska winter, Scheer said.
The plant list includes Boston ivy, Virginia creeper, a bit of wisteria for highlight color, trumpet creeper (with red and orange flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds), honeysuckle (with white and yellow flowers), some day lilies for color and varieties of clematis.
Some plants will grow up and others will hang down.
The area around the garage entrance will include a mesh frame and dense plantings with plants designed to weave themselves through the mesh and eventually form a green quilt with different textures and colors, Scheer said.
The rest of the building will include vines on cables.
The $175,000 cost, including the frame, irrigation system and plants, is being covered by state stormwater grant funds, according to Ben Higgins, chief engineer for the city’s watershed management program.