Meeting the booming appetite for luscious green plantings in and around buildings, on rooftop gardens and even up the sides of tall buildings sounds like a massively satisfying job to have and the finished product certainly looks great. But it’s not easy to achieve.

According to Peter Bottero, an architect who years ago saw a unique opportunity for someone who understood structures and design and how to integrate engineering and horticultural skills needed for this emerging trend, it actually takes a “family” of experts to get things right.

The company he founded in 2010, Tensile Design and Construct, likes to be involved with the building design team at the very start of a project to avoid the potential pitfalls that abound for the unwary, he says.

For instance, on one Melbourne project, wisteria was planted well before his team became involved; Peter found this incredibly powerful climber steadily and surely cutting its way through the steel cables it was twisted around.

“Wisteria has a habit of constricting and it will tie itself tightly around the cables to the point where it can snap 2 mm, 3 mm and even 4 mm cables,” Peter says.

“If someone told us that they were planting wisteria, we would have said don’t, or let us know at the start so we can change the rigging system to deal with that particular plant.”

There’s a big difference in climbers – from twining plants, to tendril plants and the self adhesives. “Each of those climbers require a different system, and a different way of thinking about it, and we need to understand that.”

Tensile Design & Construct director Peter Bottero

Another big challenge was how to deliver the “hanging gardens” inside a nine-storey atrium, suspended from a glass ceiling in an inner city building, known as The Workshop in Sydney’s inner suburb of Pyrmont, where Tensile worked with Bates Smart and Fytogreen.

“In terms of nature, we’re dealing with a canyon that’s nine storeys deep. So, what is the access to light going to be? How does that change further down? That is super important in terms of plant specification.

“High light up the top, to mid light and then almost an understorey, under canopy sort of plantings down the bottom. Once the species up the top grow, they obviously create more shadow for the ones below.”

Then there is growing interest in green walls, some quite tall and needing a complex system to perform as a separate frame that creatively connected to the main façade.

According to Peter you can do all this and get it right if you start with the right design and the right team of experts at the very beginning of a project.

It takes a family

Over the years Peter has assembled what he calls a strong “family” of partners to meet the diverse needs of greening buildings.

“The fields of knowledge that this requires are actually many and varied. We need botanists, horticulturalists, structural engineers, facade engineers, wind engineers, and hydraulic engineers, plant growers for soil and growing medium.

Plants are not just aesthetic things that are tacked on. They are a performing as part of the building. They perform in terms of the environmental aspect, but also in terms of a social aspect, and economic as well. For instance. plants can help you reduce your heating and cooling costs.”

Peter Bottero

These are the people who “share the vision and want to work with us,” Peter says.

“Plants are not just aesthetic things that are tacked on. They are performing as part of the building. They perform in terms of the environmental aspect, but also in terms of a social aspect, and economic as well. For instance, plants can help you reduce your heating and cooling costs.”

Tensile has been involved with some of Australia’s most high-profile green building projects, including in Sydney, Central Park, The Workshop, and Westfield’s Warringah Mall and in Melbourne Sky Park in the Melbourne Quarter near Docklands, the Stonnington City Council Offices and Platinum Tower in Melbourne.

Peter will share many more insights at The Fifth Estate’s Urban Greening event in collaboration with Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, University of Technology Sydney, and Living Future Institute – 28 July, 2022 at UTS Sydney

“We’re utilised to push the boundaries,” Peter says.

And he’s also motivated to share the insights and knowledge including where things go wrong.

“I’m not afraid to talk through what we went through to make our projects happen. If we can actually propel the whole knowledge level of the industry forward, then the scope of the designs and how challenging they are, can keep moving forward.”