Innovative ‘green’ wall features sheet metal, native Texas plants

Ahmed Ali

Bruce Dvorak

Merging waste metal from the automotive industry, native plants and the ingenuity of Texas A&M design students and professors, a new “Living Wall” adorns the side of Langford Architecture Center’s building B, adding beautification and reducing heat gain effects on the wall and surrounding area.

The Living Wall is the brainchild of Ahmed Ali, assistant professor of architecture and Bruce Dvorak, associate professor of landscape architecture, who worked together to imagine and manufacture an innovative type of “green” wall made of sheet metal byproducts, or offal, with modules individually irrigated by an automatic water-conserving drip system and self-supported on a steel frame.

While “green” walls are gaining popularity in residential and public spaces, most are made from cloth sacks or plastic hydroponic modules which either require extensive maintenance or encourage mildew. By using offal, hand-cut and shaped with a drainage hole in the bottom at the [Texas A&M Automated Fabrication and Design Laboratory] ( by graduate students, the wall is sustainable, long-lasting and economical.

“This is the first living green wall made from sheet metal scrap from the automotive industry,” Ali said. “Our students cut the metal using a computer-controlled water jet, bent the sheets and assembled them with aluminum rivets. It increased their knowledge of the materials and will better inform their design decisions.”

Over the fall 2017, spring 2018 and summer 2018 semesters, students tested dozens of iterations of shapes and designs before finding the unique diamond design. They also tested which colors would best reflect sunlight off the modules.

“The design of the modules is innovative, beautiful and solves a lot of problems with traditional ‘green’ wall systems,” Dvorak said.

To choose which plants to install in the modules, Dvorak relied on results from years of testing plants on the Langford A roof for their hardiness to heat, drought, wind and extreme conditions.

He chose Silver Pony Foot, a hoof-shaped leaf trailing plant; Yucca, a perennial shrub with sword-shaped leaves; Frogfruit, a dense plant with tightly clustered flowers; Agave Lophantha, a spiky succulent; Hummingbird Yucca, a sword-leafed plant with reddish pink flowers; and Texas False Agave, a red bromeliad. Together these plants will grow upright and trail along the 10-foot tall wall creating a lush vertical landscape.

“I’ve chosen plants that are tough as nails,” he said. “These can grow vertically in a small soil pocket and will thrive here.”

The project was funded by a [Tier One Program] ( grant from Texas A&M and the General Motors Co.

Ali, a research fellow in the Center for Health Systems and Design and the Center for Housing and Urban Development, is founder and director of the Resource Based Design Research Lab at Texas A&M. He is an internationally known figure advocating resource reuse in design and construction. His work on innovating the architectural design process for resource reuse has been published and presented in top journals, proceedings and conferences worldwide.

Dvorak coordinates the Master of Landscape Architecture program and is a registered landscape architect. His areas of interest include sustainable design, planning, and construction. He recently earned a Merit Award from the Texas Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for his research project, “Green Roof Vegetation for North American Ecoregions.”

Sarah Wilson

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posted November 27, 2018