Co.Design

SOM’s Giant Vertical Flower Pot Is An Air Purifier On Steroids

The Center for Architecture Science and Ecology, a collaboration between SOM and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, develops a new way to harness the power of the almighty rhizosphere. The almighty wha? Read on.

Researchers have been touting the air-purifying benefits of indoor plants for ages. One problem: Regular old leaves aren’t all that effective at scrubbing toxins. The part that’s really effective is the rhizosphere, an area around a plant’s roots with a cleaning capacity that’s 200 times greater than that of roots or leaves. But the rhizosphere is usually buried too deep in a flower pot to have much of an impact on the air we breathe.

Leave it to the whizzes at the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology (CASE), a research group co-founded by SOM and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, to develop a new way to harness the power of the almighty rhizosphere. Their Active Modular Phytoremediation (AMP) system is a fancy name for what’s basically a souped-up flower pot: a perforated, irrigated sheet of vacuum-molded plastic that lets you raise an entire wall of hydroponic plants in the open air. The plants fit in the holes. The holes expose the plants’ roots to airborne toxins. The wall’s shape--originally based on geometry invented by a NASA scientist and a sculptor--is optimized to guide all those pollutants across the roots, exploiting the rhizospheres’ cleaning powers. Per SOM’s press release:

As the air passes over the roots, microorganisms that live on the roots absorb volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other pollutants from the air and break them down into harmless substances. The filtered air passes through the AMP unit and circulates back to the indoor environment.

SOM claims that the AMP unit can trim VOC levels in a typical office by a whopping 80%. That in turn reduces the need to pump fresh air into a building, which can slash power consumption associated with mechanical ventilation systems by up to 60%.

The AMP unit is still undergoing testing. But if it’s really as powerful as the designers suggest, it could be an important solution to the vexing problem of poor indoor air quality--and a whole lot prettier than any purifier you could buy on Amazon.

[Images courtesy of SOM]

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7 Comments

  • halrhp

    Why do my posts with the links to articles on the scientific knowledge about plants and indoor air pollutant removal, and even the information on how to find the referenced articles, keep disappearing? You can email me at hevin6 at gmail dot com if you want to respond off line. But I am very disturbed by the removal of the help I am trying to provide those who naively believe plants can clean indoor air.

  • Suzannelabarre

    We have open comments so if you're having trouble posting something, it might be a technical problem. Try contacting the site administrator. And thanks for the links. Interesting stuff.

  • halrhp

    I have posted three "notes" here on this blog post, and none of them appear. Perhaps because I was critical of the basic concept technology behind the technology. 

    There is very little effect of using plants to remove indoor air pollutants, even with enhanced air movement to the root zone, compared with even the very lowest ventilation rates found in occupied buildings. You can read more about the limitations of plants to clean indoor air at http://www.practicalasthma.net...

    or a more recent critical review of the scientific literature on house plants and IAQ at 
    http://www.buildingecology.com....

  • C Stewart

    Great Article.
    Recently the ASLA held a Green wall Technology conference here in San Francisco.
    One of the issues that plague design professionals like myself is the lack of any metrics by which we can show - any - clear metrics by which clients can judge the ROI of a Green Wall solution. The qualitative benefits are legion but the quantitative are not.
    The metrics offered by SOM are encouraging, Can you point me to where they have published these metrics or where you obtained these.

    Thanks
    Charles Stewart, ASLA

  • Suzannelabarre

    Hi, Charles--

    The figures come from SOM. I'd try contacting them directly. Good luck!

    Suzanne

  • Philomen

    Now this is the kind of innovation the planet needs more than anything. Solutions for a better quality of life.