July 23, 2018 | ° F

EcoWall to ‘crop’ up in October at Rutgers

Photo by Edwin Gano |

The New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health will open in October with a new flair and astounding feature — the state’s largest living interior wall.

Measuring as high as 40 feet tall and wide as 33 feet, the living wall is created by EcoWalls, a business founded by two Rutgers alumni, Michael Coraggio and Ryan Burrows.

“The architect for the building ... worked with EcoWalls directly in the design of the living wall. Natoli Construction provided the infrastructure for the living wall but EcoWalls was responsible for the design, manufacturing and installation for the living wall,” said Roger Grillo, the IFNH director in Administration and Finance.

As the installation began in June, the living wall is now composed of 75 to 100 flora pieces and includes 6,500 various plants. The living wall is situated near the staircase and has a unique hydroponic system providing water to the plants twice a day.

“The plants are pre-grown in special foam modules designed for growing plants vertically. This makes the living wall a more sustainable solution,” Grillo said.

The foam absorbs water and nutrients, providing a solid nutritional base for the plants, he said. The plants can expand their root system throughout the module and grow into mature plants.

For Coraggio and Burrows, this was yet another testament to being able to “come back home” and a unique project that allows there to be a display of nature’s beauty within the building.

Coraggio said being tied to the University as alumni makes the project more unique.

“The fact that we could literally sit with the University and we had enough time to plan the planting design out so a lot of the plants you see in the living wall are ones that we grew in our greenhouse,” he said.

The plants are pre-grown and then put in special foam modules, 3 feet by 3 feet, designed so the plants can grow vertically, according to Coraggio. The modules allow there to be replacement for the soil and water and nutrients to be locked up in the root system, like a “LEGO system.”

Looking back at his students who he taught in 2007, Nicki Graf, the manager of the Rutgers Floriculture Greenhouse said he remembers the experiments that two creators of the living wall used to in her classes.

“Their very first wall is in my greenhouse,” said Graf. “Mike worked for me as a student. They installed that in 2007. I thought it was great. It is still there. To see him graduate to this is very gratifying. He has got a great eye. It is magnificent.”

While the EcoWall is aesthetically pleasing, it also helps with the idea of keeping clean air within the building itself, Graf said.

“The living wall provides a direct link to the campus re-enforcing the values of openness and transparency. And at the same time encouraging the free exchanges of ideas and collaborations,” Grillo said.

Biophilia hypothesis, a theory that suggests there is an instinctive connection between human beings and other living systems, has been documented to promote well-being and health, Grillo said. Some people have even tied it to better productivity, increase learning and cognitive abilities and reduced stress levels.

Coraggio said the possibility of having a living wall at the University came about ever since the Dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences became familiar with the idea.

“Just like any technology, we believed it could be more refined and more efficient,” he said. “We wanted to make it as sustainable as possible to really minimize the amount of plant replacement and also the ease in installation. The modular concept was thought up so we could make it accessible for other companies to take it and install as well.”

The material used for the irrigation system is simply put through the proper balance between the water and nutrients allowing the plants to remain upward and bring about the beautiful and aesthetically pleasing design of the wall, Corragio said.

“(IFNH is) responsible for bringing together faculty, staff and students from across the University to work on large multi-disciplinary projects of major societal importance,” Grillo said. “With the overall mission to make New Jersey the ‘Healthy State’ and a model for the nation.”

Keshav Pandya

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