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]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.