Western Living Magazine
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One design firm transforms concrete landscapes into lush conversation pieces.
Graffiti artists look at a blank concrete wall and see a canvas. So does Mike Weinmaster—but for the 34-year-old co-founder and chief designer of Green over Grey Design, turning urban walls into art takes more than rattling a spray-paint can. Since 2008 he and his business partner, Patrick Poiraud, have made dozens of building facades, inside and outside, into living paintings using plants. “There’s always a challenge in creating something that’s interesting to look at, using plants that will work where it’s lighter or darker, wetter or drier,” he says. Guilford Town Centre is host to North America’s largest vertical garden. Photo by Lucas Finlay.Part of what makes his works impressive is their (frequently) immense size. Weinmaster’s Les Courants green wall, at the Desjardins credit union headquarters in Lévis, Quebec, is the world’s tallest interior green wall, at 213 feet. Only a half-hour from his Vancouver office, he swirled nature-inspired patterns onto a Surrey overpass to create North America’s largest vertical garden: 130 plant species, 10,000 square feet and 45,000 individual plants. But Weinmaster can also work with a smaller canvas: inside a home on B.C.’s Quadra Island designed by Patkau Architects, Weinmaster installed a tidal zone-inspired wall of 162 square feet. As judge Kelty McKinnon of PFS Studio noted of Weinmaster’s work, “Living walls are a unique niche with a huge impact on the experiential qualities of the urban landscape, particularly when implemented at this scale.”Weinmaster and his team have studied plants growing vertically in nature during trips to rainforests in countries like Costa Rica, Cambodia and Papua New Guinea, seeking out those that have the ability to withstand vertical, cliff-dwelling conditions; they source the best back home from local nurseries. Some, like the peace lily and the snake plant, can even capture and break down indoor air pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde. Once in place, Weinmaster’s living walls attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. “We want to bring biodiversity back into the city and get people excited about it, get them wanting see more of it out in the natural world, and to preserve it.”