Belfast Telegraph

Wonder wall: Belfast's new vertical gardens

By Linda Stewart

You might be forgiven for thinking Diarmuid Gavin had escaped from Chelsea and sneaked into east Belfast to erect one of his peculiar green edifices.

But this spectacular vertical garden — the only one of its kind in Ireland — is actually part of a groundbreaking new project on the Lower Newtownards Road commissioned by East Belfast Mission.

The £16.5m Skainos Project will create a new heart for one of Belfast’s most rundown urban districts, attracting residents and visitors for work, study and worship. With its courtyards, panelled facade and two soaring green walls, it will become a landmark in the midst of council housing and boarded-up shops.

Some 6,500 plants make up the breathtaking vertical gardens that greet commuters travelling into town — a 500m green wall designed to change colour with the seasons and a creeper wall which will make the most of tougher conditions on the north-facing facade.

The architects say they have already met with success in using green roofs elsewhere that attracted wildlife and the vertical gardens are an extension of that idea. The plants will condition the air, remove pollutants and provide seasonal colour and vegetation. Meanwhile, a variety of roof gardens will harbour natural flora and fauna.

“The Lower Newtownards Road is a difficult area to put green on the ground in, in terms of maintenance and vandalism. We’ve seen these green walls in different parts of Europe before,” said project architect Barbara Baird of Donnelly O’Neill Architects.

“We believe this is the first one in Ireland but we will probably see more and more of them.

“There is a growing substrate holding thousands of individual plants which have been planted in a canvas base with individual

pockets and irrigation systems running between these little seedlings. There are 4,500 plants in the green wall and 2,000 in the creeper wall.

”The green wall will be a four-season wall which will bloom in different colours at different times of the year.”

The cross-community building — the realisation of a 12-year project by East Belfast Mission — will feature offices and retail space, alongside a restaurant that serves up meals on wheels and a 300-seat auditorium for worship. It will be home to a family centre, Age Concern day centre, Belfast Met classrooms, a day facility for the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health, Tear Fund’s new offices and a homeless hostel.

The building will include 38 apartments — predominantly social housing — and public courtyards that anyone can wander into.

“What the local community are getting for their money is absolutely fantastic. This is very much a building for the local community and we’ve been working very closely with the local community — if they don’t buy into it, it won’t work out,” Barbara added.

Factfile

  • Total site area: 7,260 sq m
  • Value: £20m
  • Organisations which will use the scheme: East Belfast Mission, Age |Concern, Oaklee Housing Association, Belfast Metropolitan College, the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health, Tear Fund


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