Case study / Focus: Facility Design

Living wall inspires heart health

Two-sided green wall welcomes patients and staff at the Spectrum Health Medical Group Heart and Vascular Center in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Two basic types of patients receive care at the Spectrum Health Medical Group Heart and Vascular Center in Grand Rapids, Mich. Those who have had heart attacks or heart surgery receive cardiac rehabilitation services, medically supervised programs that include exercise training, education on heart healthy living and eating, and counseling. People with early-onset coronary disease, or strong risk factors for it, may have had heart health scares, such as a bout of severe chest pains. They receive preventive cardiology services, individualized programs to reduce their health risks.

Both types of patients have two things in common. They come to the Center 2-3 times a week for 6-8 weeks to restore their heart health. When arriving, they are welcomed by a living, thriving symbol of heart health: a green wall that features a distinctive design of three heart shapes expressed in a dark red color with Heucheras (Coral Bell) within a background of green Sedum.

For the Center’s clinical and support staff, as well as the patients, the green wall offers an unexpected extra. It was designed and installed as a freestanding, two-sided structure. The side facing toward the building is a vertical garden of edibles with a variety of vegetables and herbs.

“As a growing, changing emblem of healthy hearts, the heart planted wall invites patients, their families and our staff into the Center,” said Sarah Chartier, sustainability program manager, Spectrum Health. “The vertical herb and vegetable wall invites them to think about healthy eating and the sources of our food.”

“Our green wall is a living representation of heart health,” said Kathleen Nickerson, R.N., charge nurse, clinical team, cardiovascular medicine, Spectrum Health Medical Group. “The two sides are two sides of heart health.”

Deciding on a green wall

The decision to install the green wall came out of broader conversations about sustainability, local sourcing of food, and promoting healthy eating habits. Spectrum Health has two community gardens, one at its South Pavilion facility and the other at the Spectrum Health Continuing Care Center. There was some discussion about designing and planting a garden with raised beds at the Heart and Vascular Center. 

“In the area at the entrance to the Center, there was limited space for additional landscaping,” said Bruce De Vrou, project manager, ground services, Spectrum Health Hospitals. “A green wall was more practical than a garden.”

“A vertical, rather than a horizontal, landscape element better fit the space,” said Chartier. “In addition, a green wall offered more visibility and accessibility than a regular garden.”

Design and installation

Spectrum Health has LiveRoof® vegetative roofs on three of its facilities. LiveWall® is the green wall system developed by the same horticultural and green infrastructure experts who created LiveRoof. Thus, Spectrum Health enlisted the help of Dave MacKenzie, president of LiveRoof and LiveWall, in planning a green wall installation for the Center.

“New studies reinforce existing research showing that patients who have views of green space and plants heal faster,” said MacKenzie. “That makes green roofs and living walls attractive landscape features for healthcare organizations like Spectrum Health.”

LiveWall is a complete engineered system that supports plants in a natural orientation, plant roots growing down, stems, leaves and flowers growing up. In a typical installation, LiveWall’s vertical rails are attached to the face of a wall. These rails are the starting point for the green wall framework and provide separation for air space behind the green wall. Unique horizontal rails, featuring hollow conduits for integrated irrigation, are attached to the vertical rails to complete the framework. Molded modular planter boxes are then placed onto the horizontal rails where they fit and sit securely, creating a wall of planters. Liner inserts, with plants pre-grown to maturity off site, are slid into the boxes. For outdoor green walls, the modular planters have holes in the bottom for drainage, and spray nozzles at the top of the horizontal rails water the plants like rain. 

To install the system as a freestanding wall, it was constructed like a fence. The vertical rails were sunk into the ground and cemented in place like fence posts. 

MacKenzie suggested the two-sided, freestanding wall design. The idea for the heart design was Kathleen Nickerson’s inspiration. 

“I had learned from other LiveWall installations that a planted wall can be an art piece, that it can express ideas. I wanted our green wall to have a heart — a design that would convey a living, healthy heart,” she said. “Originally, I envisioned one heart in the center. Dave MacKenzie refined my idea with the three-heart design, which takes advantage of the length of the wall.” 

The 100-square-foot wall was constructed in June 2015. Measuring 5’4” high by 20’ long, it includes 150 modular planter boxes. As noted, the planted heart side faces out and features perennials, Sedum and Heucheras (Coral Bell).  The vertical edibles garden grows a variety of vegetables (including tomatoes, green peppers, Swiss chard, kale, and leeks) and herbs (such as oregano, basil, rosemary, and mint.)

Results and maintenance

Kloosterman Landscaping, Inc. is Spectrum Health’s landscape contractor. As part of their routine services, they keep an eye on the green wall. They check the moisture level of the growing medium and prune the plants during the growing season. According to De Vrou, it takes them only 15 minutes a week during the growing season.

“From my vantage point, as the person responsible for how our exteriors are presented, it was critical that the green wall not distract from the original landscape design or compete with architectural elements of the building. In addition, it could not impede facility access or compromise any other aspect of functionality,” said De Vrou.  “With the size, shape and positioning of the green wall, it stands as a unique feature. At the same time, it fits into the landscape and complements the building's exterior."

The three-heart design is visible all year from the parking lot and sidewalk leading up to the Center, even in winter when the plants are dormant. Clinical and administrative staff enjoy the green wall in summer. They can sit outside during work breaks and at lunchtime at picnic tables and benches placed on the lawn near the wall. They also pick vegetables and herbs to take home.

“The response from everyone has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Chartier. “We have also experienced an unanticipated benefit. The area around the green wall provides a gathering place where staff from different departments meet, interact, and connect.”

“The LiveWall is bigger and better than what I thought we could achieve with an ordinary garden,” said Nickerson. “I love to go out to my garden wall. I get outside, feel the breeze, see the plants. It is a brief respite in my busy day,” said Nickerson. “And I can pick a tomato to put in my salad for lunch. There is nothing more beautiful than a sun-ripened tomato on the vine.”  

About Spectrum Health

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system, based in West Michigan, offering a full continuum of care through the Spectrum Health Hospital Group, which is comprised of 12 hospitals, ambulatory and service sites; more than 3,100 physicians and advanced practice providers, including 1,200 members of the Spectrum Health Medical Group; and Priority Health, a health plan with about 654,000 members. Spectrum Health is West Michigan’s largest employer, with 23,400 employees. The organization provided $283 million in community benefit during its 2015 fiscal year. Spectrum Health is the only health system in Michigan to be named one of the nation’s 15 Top Health Systems® by Truven Health Analytics for 2015.

About LiveWall

Designed with a healthy regard for plants, LiveWall® is the patented living wall system that achieves simplicity and sustainability in harmony with nature. LiveWall is the result of four years of R&D by the professionals who created LiveRoof®, the superior green roof system. LiveWall green wall solutions are engineered with horticultural and structural features specific for indoor and outdoor environments. LiveWall supports plants as nature intended — roots growing down, stems and leaves growing up. With unsurpassed versatility to grow a diversity of plant types, LiveWall transforms ordinary walls into inspiring, thriving vertical landscapes that are simple to install and easy to maintain. For more information, call 877-554-4065.

Project Summary Outline

• Name of Owner: Spectrum Health System

• Name of Project: Two-Sided Green Wall: Heart Planted Wall and Vertical Edibles Garden

• Project Address: Spectrum Health Medical Group Heart and Vascular Center, 2900 Bradford Street NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525

• Installation Date: June 2015

• Type of Building/Facility: Healthcare 

• Type of Installation: Outdoor  

• Green Wall System: LiveWall Outdoor – Automatic Irrigation

• LiveWall Wall Planter Module Color: Sage

• LiveWall Inserts (#): 150 16-inch

• Number of Plant Varieties: About a dozen different types

•Number of Plants: 150

• Plant Palette: Heart Wall – Perennials, Sedum and Heucheras (Coral Bell).  Vertical Edibles Garden – vegetables, including tomatoes, green peppers, Swiss chard, kale, leeks and herbs such as oregano, basil, rosemary, and mint

• Size in Sq Ft: 100 sq ft each side (5’4” high x 20’ long )

• Slope in Degrees: Vertical

• Wall Orientation (outdoor): East-facing side (outward), the Heart Planted Wall. West-facing side (facing the building), the Vertical Edibles Garden

• Visibility/Access: Prominent and publicly accessible


November 2, 2016

Topic Area: Architecture

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