The subject of students’ social-emotional well-being has dominated the conversation with our School District partners. When schools support social-emotional wellness, students typically have fewer disciplinary issues, can achieve greater levels of concentration, and can develop more advanced communication skills. It is particularly crucial to maximize the opportunity we have to help support social-emotional wellness it in the place where our children spend most of their time, in their (PreK-12) schools.

Moving into the post-pandemic era has only increased the desire and need in finding opportunities to address the many stressors our students face on a daily basis. Fortunately, as design and construction professionals, we have a variety of options to meet this complex challenge. Ergonomic furniture, thermal comfort, acoustic attenuation measures and lighting controls are just some examples of the type of systems/elements that can play a vital role in creating a supportive and comfortable instructional environment for our students. Biofiltration living walls are also another element that Wight & Company has been able to explore and implement in some of its most recent school projects.

Biofiltration Living Walls (BLW): active, integrated systems that supplement the HVAC system to help filter the indoor air that we breathe.

If we break biofiltration into its roots, “bio” meaning life and “filtration” meaning to the process of filtering the concept starts to make sense. They utilize biofiltration (the passing of a contaminated air stream through a biologically active area where pollutants, such as VOCs, are utilized as a food source), phytoremediation (how plants facilitate the products of photosynthesis – oxygen, sugars and proteins are shuttled to the roots to enhance microbial activity), and hydroponics (process of growing plants in liquid nutrient solutions rather than soil) in a unique system designed specifically to deal with environmental quality issues. The improved efficiency of VOC removal provides increase indoor air quality and can help to reduce a building’s energy load, resulting in energy savings.

There is a significant amount of analysis and engineering that goes into the design of these nuanced systems. Intense collaboration between our architects, engineers and design specialists like the Nedlaw Group is critical to making them fully functional. Balancing performance (optimally cleansing 100 square feet of interior space for every sf of living wall) with the aesthetic intent of the project is no small endeavor. Size and shape may vary. And location can play a critical role in its environmental impact and the ability to operate and maintain it. Access to natural light must be carefully considered and humidity concerns acknowledged and addressed.

Biophilia: the inherent tendency that humans posses to seek connections and interactions with nature.

Another important contribution that BLWs provide to the indoor environment and a students’ educational experience is through biophilia. Incorporating natural elements into a building can help create a space(s) for moments of repose and reflection. At Adlai E. Stevenson High School’s East Building Addition Phase 1 we implemented (2) two-story living walls in a corridor which helped transform the corridor into a destination. We have found that students go out of their way to come to this space before school, at their lunch break and during non-scheduled times of the day to socialize, do homework or simply rest before rejoining the “buzz” happening though-out the rest of the facility. A variety of soft seating areas in front and to the side of the BLW provide opportunities for both individuals and small groups to gather and rejuvenate themselves within a safe and secured setting. It is here that students and staff alike can experience the graceful and gentle movement of foliage hanging on the wall and the continuous trickling sound of water being discharged from the irrigation system as it makes its way down the wall.