Interview with Inventor Nelson Chick, Vertical Landscaper
Interview with Nelson Chick

by Willi Paul

What metaphors are you using for vertical design?

Imagine gazing upon an urban landscape and seeing columns of vegetation rising up into the sky cleansing the air of pollutants and helping to elevates Heat Island Effect which is a major component of Global warming. Another one is to create a composite of nature and architecture.

Can you point to work that you have created so we can visit?

Just in my backyard, but it is easy to see vertical landscapes happening naturally in nature by just Googling: "Waterfalls." They happen in nature and there is no reason to believe they cannot recreated by man to help heal the urban environment.

What are your 5 most important design principles?

Currently green roofs have taken off, but I believe a green roof is to a vertical landscape what a typewriter is to a computer for the following reasons:

1st, the load of a green roof gets exponentially higher the further it is from a wall, and this is one of the reasons why green roofs are always mostly groundcover to keep the weight down. But a vertical landscape carry's all of its load on the wall where it belongs, which means it can carry a greater load, and thus it can handle a greater variety of vegetation.

2nd, unless you are above a green roof you cannot see it, but a vertical landscape can be placed where it would be most visible. Why would a client go to the added expense of installing a green roof at their headquarters when nobody would be able to see how green they are. A vertical landscape could frame the entrance, so everyone that goes to their headquarters would see how green they are.

3rd, on any given structure the greatest amount of sunlight will land on its roof, and this is why the roof should be reserved for photovoltaic cells. A vertical landscape can be placed on almost any wall, and if it is a shoddy wall the designer would mearly need to specify shad loving vegetation.

4th, if a green roof spring a leak it is an ordeal to pull up the vegetation to find and seal the leak. With a vertical landscape provisions are made that would allow water to flow down to an overflow tank where it would be pumped away or utilized to water the wall or adjacent landscaping.

5th, all the advantages of green roofs like storm water retention and utilization of gray water systems will work just as well with vertical landscaping if not better because the water would not need to be pumped to the roof.

Isn't gravity working against you here?

I believe on the 31st floor of one of the World Trade towers was a rare coin merchant, and between the vault and the coins in it that merchant's safe weighed more than a World War 2 vintage Sherman Tank (64,600 lbs). Gravity is a consideration obviously, but it is something that can be taken into account in the design phase, and as I said earlier it works better for vertical landscaping than it does for green roofs.

Are there any inherent conflicts when combing architectural elements (buildings) and plants?

Yes, first of all the concrete would need to be water tight, but there are many additives on the market that can take care of this. For instance, the Golden Gate Bridge towers are supported by concrete piers, and those piers take more abuse than any concrete used for a vertical landscape ever will. Roots could also work their way into cracks and cause damage, but by coating the inside wall with a mild defoliate the roots would be trained not to do this.

How do you water vertical landscapes?

There are a number of means to water a vertical landscape: Drip irrigation, gray water systems, and a cistern can collect excess water during a storm and then release it during dry times.

Dig in and tell us what inspires you (see: What are the criteria for your art?

I was raised a rural boy in Ukiah, California, where I developed a great love for nature. I was also born into a family of builders, which is why I became a builder, and later studied architecture at UC Berkeley. My love of nature and of the built environment caused a conflict within me because architecture usually displaces nature. The idea of vertical landscaping came from that conflict. With vertical landscaping we can create new architecture without displacing nature.

What lessons have you extracted from the plants in the jungle?

Lessons on how to execute vertical landscaping. Nature is our greatest teacher, but I am afraid mankind has itself fooled into thinking it is rules nature but I am afraid nothing could be further from the truth.