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Green Wall in Therapeutic Conservatory — Not Just for “Show”

on January 17, 2019 at 3:47 pm under ,

LiveWall Living Wall Proves to be a Key Element of Biophilic Design in the Alice and Herbert Sachs Therapeutic Conservatory

The innate need of human beings to connect with nature is known as biophilia. Biophilic research confirms what people know from their own lived experience: bringing the outdoors indoors is beneficial to human health and happiness. In order to nurture this vital connection, biophilic design purposefully incorporates natural materials, plants, natural light, views of the outdoors, and other touchpoints with the natural world into the modern built environment. By fostering a connection with nature, greening up the interiors of buildings promotes well-being and brings a surprising array of benefits.

Therapeutic Conservatory

Green or living walls can help achieve the benefits of biophilic design. Case in point: the living wall in the Alice and Herbert Sachs Therapeutic Conservatory, which is on the main campus of MossRehab in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

MossRehab is the physical and cognitive rehabilitation division of the Einstein Healthcare Network. Consistently ranked for 25 years by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Hospital” for rehabilitation, MossRehab serves people in need of rehabilitation to overcome the effects of spinal cord injuries, strokes, amputations, traumatic brain injuries, and other accidents and medical conditions. MossRehab opened the Alice and Herbert Sachs Therapeutic Conservatory in 2014 to expand and enhance its horticultural therapy program.

“Work,” “Grow” and “Show”

Therapeutic Conservatory

Image: Chianis + Anderson Architects

Designed by Chianis + Anderson Architects, PLLC (Binghamton, NY), the 1,500-square-foot Conservatory is divided into three connected sections. Jeffery T. Smith, AIA, NCARB, architect and partner, Chianis + Anderson Architects, explained that “the three sections represent the three functions required of the structure.”

“Work” (440 square feet) includes a work table and storage cabinets. “Grow” and “Show” are housed within a Rough Brothers, Inc. greenhouse structure. The Grow Room (530 square feet) is a working greenhouse. It provides a bright and airy space where MossRehab’s horticultural therapist engages patients in gardening activities designed to help them achieve therapeutic treatment goals. The Show Room (530 square feet) is a plant-filled place of respite.

Biophilic Design in the Show Room

The Show Room includes daylighting, natural cedar trim, natural teak furnishings, potted plants, and accessible raised planting beds. It features a green wall and a water wall.

“The Show Room was designed as a sun filled, relaxing and rejuvenating green space — a retreat from the hospital environment,” said Craig Sieving, vice president, facilities administration, Einstein Healthcare Network. “As its name suggests, it is also the showcase of the Conservatory. The green wall complements a water wall to create the central showpiece of this section.”

Therapeutic Conservatory

The 84-square-foot green wall (12 feet wide x 7 feet tall) was designed and installed with the LiveWall® Indoor Living Wall System. The adjacent water wall, from Bluworld of Water, LLC, is four feet wide and extends ten feet vertically. It is surrounded by a stone veneer wall constructed with locally quarried Wissahickon Schist stone. Including the stone surround, the water wall feature wall is 10 and one half feet wide by 16 feet high.

“In the design of the Show Room, we wanted to screen a large masonry wall,” said Smith. “The green wall serves that function. It also provides a strong visual impact in relationship with the water wall and adds a garden element and more plants without taking up precious floor space.”

Deciding on a Green Wall

Therapeutic Conservatory

In the planning and design phase of the project (2012-2013), which included site visits to other therapeutic conservatories, a more traditional form of wall screening was initially envisioned for the masonry wall in the Show Room: a wooden trellis structure with plantings growing from the ground. However, it can take several years for vines to climb up a trellis, mature, and fill in. The design committee preferred an alternative that could be installed with full-grown plants, offer the flexibility to change plant varieties, and keep the soil above the floor level. Could a green wall provide a solution?

“More than a decade ago, we installed a LiveRoof green roof on a different facility,” said Sieving. “When we learned that the same horticultural experts who created LiveRoof designed the LiveWall green wall system, we had confidence in considering it for the Conservatory.”

Therapeutic Conservatory

“When LiveWall was presented in a meeting, it was a revelation — amazing and unique,” said Anne Wieland, CTRS, MHA, team leader, recreation therapy department, MossRehab. “None of the sites we had visited had anything like it.”

LiveWall is a modular system. To install it, first its vertical furring tracks are attached on the wall. The tracks provide a framework for fastening the other components that form the system. They also establish air space between the wall and the system for ventilation. Horizontal aluminum rails, acting as conduits that bring water to the integrated irrigation components, are affixed to the tracks. The system’s molded modular planter boxes then fit into place and are fastened onto the rails. Finally, separate liner inserts, which are re-usable plant containers with growing medium and pre-grown plants, are dropped into the planter boxes. The integrated irrigation components use drip stake assemblies, which inject water into the growing medium.

As a hospital, you want to focus your dollars on patient care not facility maintenance,” said Sieving. “LiveWall has proven to be simple, reliable, durable, and easy to maintain.”

Not Just for Show

Therapeutic Conservatory

Connection to nature is part of the healing process at MossRehab that starts with exterior landscaping. When patients, families and visitors arrive at MossRehab, they experience a transition from the busy urban streetscape to a quiet and beautiful landscaped campus.

“The Conservatory extends the landscape to the interior,” said Smith. “The Show section, especially with the pairing of the green wall and the water feature, is a living expression of a commitment to nurturing experience of nature as a critical element in the healing environment.”

Therapeutic Conservatory

“You can see the difference it makes when patients come into the Conservatory, a special space that is richly oxygenated, warm, and moist and where they surrounded by green,” said Abby Jaroslow, HTR, CH, horticultural therapist, MossRehab. “They can feel completely removed from the hospital setting. It is relaxing and therapeutic just to be there. With patients experiencing agitation and anxiety, you can see the relief they experience.”

Maintenance is part of what makes the green wall a therapeutic asset. With guidance from staff, patients and volunteers (many of them former patients) grow, plant, and care for the green wall plants. Jaroslow completely changes out the annuals once year and changes other plants periodically, six to ten modules at a time, using poinsettias and evergreens during the holidays or adding decorations and different flowers for special events.

Therapeutic Conservatory

Patients follow her instructions to remove the inserts from the LiveWall modular planters, take out growing medium and plants, clean the liners and planters, mix new growing medium, put it into the inserts, add the plants, and water them. Each is a meaningful task. As they follow directions and sequential instructions, patients regain cognitive abilities. Using fine motor skills as they work with the plants improves functional abilities. Social interaction during horticultural therapy provides emotional and physiological benefits.

“In the hospital, patients do occupational therapy to re-learn and practice activities of daily living. It can be tedious, frustrating, and emotionally difficult,” said Jaroslow. “In caring for the green wall in the Conservatory, they are engaged in horticultural therapy. They use the same skill sets, but it does not feel like formal therapy. It is fun, relaxing and social.”

Therapeutic Conservatory

~ Amber Poncé and David Aquilina

Publisher’s Note:  See the Alice and Herbert Sachs Therapeutic Conservatory Project Profile in the Projects Database.


Therapeutic Conservatory

Amber Poncé is the Business Development Manager for LiveRoof® Global, LLC and LiveWall®, LLC. Since 2006, Amber has played a key role in expanding the LiveRoof Global network of professional horticulturists and growers into an industry leading supplier of green roof and green wall systems. She is an accredited Green Roof Professional with more than a decade of experience in green roofing – including experience with growing media formulation, plant selection and production, shipping logistics, and installation and maintenance. Amber has helped develop green roofing industry standards. She currently sits on the green walls committee of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

Contact Amber Poncé:

David Aquilina

Therapeutic Conservatory

David Aquilina, Strategic Storyteller, is a public relations consultant and freelance writer. An accomplished, award-winning communications professional, he achieves results that showcase his clients, build and boost their brands, and launch and promote their products and services. A frequent contributor to green industry publications, David makes his home up on the edge of the northern prairie near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Contact David Aquilina:


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