Air Plant Experiment at Melbourne's Eureka Tower


Melbourne’s Eureka Tower could become home to the highest-altitude plant installation in the world, as an experiment aims to measure the viability of air plants at skyscraper heights.

The experiment, conducted by ecological artist Lloyd Godman, will see a series of Tillandsia plants housed in cages installed on levels 56, 65, 91 and 92 of the 297 metre tall tower.

The project looks set to become the world’s highest plant installation, with the current highest being the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, at 55 storeys.

Godman says the Eureka 92-storey experiment would be a “significant step upwards”.

Godman collaborated with environmental scientist Grant Harris and structural engineer Stuart Jones for the project. The trio aimed to demonstrate a new way of incorporating plants on high-rise buildings.

The experiment demonstrates the potential to remove the heavy load a vertical garden can place on a building.

“Air plants are so light. They weigh only two to three kilograms a square metre while a typical vertical garden will house plants that can weigh up to 60 to 70 kilograms per square metre," Goodman said.

The other benefit is that air plants can be suspended off a building by a distance of a metre or more. According to Godman, they make vertical gardens very versatile as the plants don’t need to sit directly on the building.

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The experiment is expected to measure the performance of the plants over nine months - through a Melbourne summer and winter. The plants will be subjected to up to 200 kilometre per hour winds and extreme sunlight.

The Tillandsia plant was chosen due to its low need for maintenance and positive environmental impact. Unlike most plants, the Tillandsia species doesn’t require soil to grow; the plants can absorb moisture through their leaves.

Goodman said: “It is also one of the few plants that will purify the city at night. When the sun goes down, the pollution levels go sky high and the Tillandsisia will help to trap it. They photosynthesise at night, absorbing the carbon and heavy metals out of the atmosphere – a cactus does the same thing.”

Godman has experimented with air plants in the past. Last year he launched Airborne as part of the Melbourne City Council 2013 Arts Grant.

Airborne was a unique series of super-sustainable rotating air gardens suspended high in the sky between existing poles at the Les Erdi Plaz, Northbank – the first in the world according to Godman. Eight suspended air plants endured Melbourne summer’s demanding hot dry conditions without any auxiliary water system and no soil medium.

The overall objective of Airborne was to demonstrate how plants can “occupy space rather than surface” – an objective Godman is keen to replicate across the urban built environment.

“We’d love to see Melbourne become the centre of air plants – they came from Melbourne. At the moment, we’re ahead of anywhere in the world, in terms of the research into these plants and their opportunity in the built environment,” he said.

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