WashU Spaces: Kuehner Court

Thirty-foot green wall is a vertical garden

To learn more about the green wall, hover over the image. (All photos: James Byard/Washington University)

Colors and textures swirl like paint strokes. More than 5,000 plants — from Kangaroo Paw Fern and chlorophytum “Ocean” to arboricola “mini green” and philodendron cordatum — form a literal wall of green that rises 30 feet in the air.

Welcome to the Kuehner Court, located in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts’ new Anabeth and John Weil Hall. With its clean lines, high ceilings and abundant natural light, the court — completed as part of Washington University in St. Louis’ east end project, which will be formally dedicated Oct. 2 — is a welcoming spot for students and faculty to meet, study, relax and recharge.

“I was inspired by the geography of St. Louis,” said Nathan Beckner, lead plant designer at Sagegreenlife, which developed the green wall in collaboration with architecture firm KieranTimberlake. “The Mississippi and Missouri are such iconic rivers. I wanted to incorporate that river patterning as well as a sense of topography and narrative.”

Beckner said that numerous studies have confirmed the benefits of “biophilic design,” which strives to better integrate the natural and built environments. (The term was popularized by biologist Edward O. Wilson in his 1984 book “Biophilia.”) These benefits range from noise abatement and improved mental health to the way plants help moderate temperature and purify the air.

“Everything changes,” Beckner said. “The smell of the room, the sound of it — plants change your perception of the space. Plants improve productivity, wellness and quality of life. People have fewer sick days.

“They’re really kind of a miracle product.”