Home Trend: Plant a Living Wall

Originally published in Michigan Avenue Magazine
December 2014

The latest luxury amenity? Living walls, which are making some local residences feel like the Garden of Eden all year long.


The lobby of The Grant combines greenery with art in Aspen Mays’s Every Leaf on a Tree.

An edgy piece of modern art used to be the boldest way to stop people in their tracks when they entered a high-end residential building for the first time. Now, though, local luxury developers are moving beyond art and are decking out their public spaces with lush “living walls,” the latest design expression of the trend that’s bringing elements of the outdoors indoors.

These are not your everyday installations of English ivy coaxed to climb a trellis; rather, these green walls typically feature an array of tropical or succulent plants embedded in soil or hanging gorgeously from panels or other wall-mounted structures. They’re made possible thanks to a recent bumper crop of efficient growing and watering techniques for vertical plant systems, and landscape designers are working with building owners who want to set themselves apart in a competitive marketplace. They’re finding that many successful urbanites want to live in chic high-rises but also like being around greenery.

“Putting plants together in an artistic way on a wall is still so new and unusual that people are fascinated by it,” says Daniel Weinbach, principal-in-charge at the Chicago landscape architecture firm Daniel Weinbach & Partners. “It creates a focus the same way a piece of art does. The natural environment also tends to promote a sense of well-being.”

Weinbach’s firm worked with The Habitat Company to create an interior living wall as part of the overall landscape design for the developer’s deluxe new rental building on the corner of Hubbard and Kingsbury Streets. In the ninth floor amenity area of Hubbard Place Apartments, located across from the East Bank Club, one wall is covered in 342 tropical plants, which creates an inviting setting in an open space boasting a fireplace and groupings of couches and chairs.

Hidden behind the wall is an irrigation and drainage system requiring little maintenance, says Steve Neumann, a plant specialist with LiveWall, a subsidiary of Hortech (a nursery in Spring Lake, Michigan), which installed the vertical garden last fall. The building’s amenity level has floor-to-ceiling windows, which create a well-lit environment for optimum plant growth, Neumann adds.

After the developer McCaffery Interests and Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds purchased The Lofts at Roosevelt Collection, on Roosevelt Road in the South Loop, a complete redesign of the lobbies in the twin residential buildings in 2012 included the installation of large panels of living plants, says Pamela Austin, senior project manager of development. The 342 rental apartments and the ground-level retail stores face a U-shaped outdoor promenade with green space, and Austin wanted to extend that feeling of being surrounded by nature right into the lobbies, she says, adding, “The lobbies also have a contemporary style with lots of hard surfaces, and the green walls soften that a little.”

AMLI Residential, known for its emphasis on sustainable design, decided to add a living wall this summer to the amenities floor of its new AMLI River North property, at Clark and Hubbard Streets, says Jennifer Wolf, senior vice president of development. The building, which opened last July with 409 rental units, offers other green and healthful features, including a smoke-free environment, fresh air pumped constantly into the ventilation system, and a garden of herbs on the outdoor deck that residents can snip for use in their home cooking, says Wolf, so the project makes perfect sense. “The living wall really adds to the intangible lifestyle factor of what people are looking for when they’re choosing a building.”

– Judith Nemes

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Green City Market outpost coming to Fulton Market

Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business
June 11, 2014

Chicago’s Green City Market, the popular organic and natural foods farmers market in Lincoln Park, is planning an outpost in the Fulton Market area, a spokesman for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development confirmed.

Green City, which features fresh produce and artisanal foods from regional sources on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, will invite produce vendors to sell their goods at a new venue in the heart of one of the hippest and fastest-growing restaurant hubs in the city. That market could open as soon as mid-July, but the specific spot hasn’t been decided. Organizers are coordinating details with several city departments and local business groups.

The new venue will be a chef-focused market with only raw produce for sale, the spokesman confirmed. No prepared foods will be sold as they are at the Lincoln Park market.

Beth Eccles, co-owner of Green Acres Farm in Judson, Indiana, and a longtime vendor at Green City, said farmers have been briefed on the plans and were told the new market is expected to operate Saturday mornings. Mark Psilos, GCM’s associate director, wouldn’t confirm details about the new market.

“This is really exciting because we’ll get more exposure to many chefs and people who don’t come to the Lincoln Park market because it’s too far away or too crowded,” Ms. Eccles said.

The city of Chicago is eager to create a farmers market in the Fulton Market district to reinforce the area’s historic association with regional foods, the city spokesman notes. Last night, a pop-up farmers market closed down the 800 block of West Fulton for a few hours.

Part of Fulton Market Innovation District

The city has been moving forward with a Fulton Market Innovation District to boost economic growth in the area. Creation of a historic district is in the works, and one highlight envisioned in that location is the upcoming chef-oriented farmers market, the city spokesman confirmed. The historic district, with borders at Hubbard, Halsted, Ogden and Randolph, has been preliminarily approved by the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks. A public comment period is underway until the fall.

A long-term objective within the innovation district includes creation of a permanent indoor facility for regional food wholesaling and local food processing, he noted. That’s good news for regional farmers who want to sell their goods year-round in Chicago.

The 16-year-old Green City Market, at the intersection of North Clark Street and North Lincoln Avenue at the south end of Lincoln Park, has been expanding its presence in Chicago as more residents and local chefs clamor for foods grown locally in a sustainable manner that’s healthier for consumers and restorative for the land. The twice-weekly outdoor market moves indoors to the Peggy Notebaert Museum up the road after Halloween and stays there till mid-spring. Vendors are scattered in patches throughout the museum and some are only given outdoor spots because there isn’t enough room inside.

“Last season was really cold outside,” said Ms. Eccles, whose fall harvest was for sale just outside of the museum’s entrance. “One day it was 18 degrees and some of our produce was literally freezing on the table.”

– Judith Nemes

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Impact Engine’s Templeton taking year-long sabbatical

Originally published in Crain’s Chicago Business
June 3, 2014

AR-140609972.jpg&maxw=368&q=100&cb=20140603122420&cci_ts=20140603122419Chuck Templeton, until recently managing director of Impact Engine, Chicago’s accelerator program for for-profit social entrepreneurs, is moving his family to Costa Rica for a year beginning in August.

The venture capitalist, who founded San Francisco-based OpenTable Inc. and has been at the helm of Impact Engine for the last two years, will continue to be engaged with the accelerator, as its chairman, and other aspects of Chicago’s socially oriented startup community.

Mr. Templeton, 46, is heading to Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast with his wife, Julie, and two daughters, who will be 8 and 10 when they move. They all plan to learn Spanish and immerse themselves in the local culture, he says.

“We live in a comfortable bubble in Chicago and we want our girls to be globally conscious that there are other places that aren’t like Chicago,” he says. “It’s also in the same time zone, so I can still be plugged in.”

Mr. Templeton will continue his role as a hands-on “super-mentor” to entrepreneurs in the accelerator program, but will work with only one or two from Costa Rica. In the last year, he was a mentor for all eight teams in the 16-week boot camp.

Impact Engine has assembled a roster of a dozen super-mentors from the Chicago business community and some of them will be matched up with new startups in the next round of the accelerator program that begins in September, according to Mr. Templeton. They each will receive between one-third and one-half of a percent of Impact Engine’s equity stake in the startups. Applications for the next crop of startups closes June 22.

Mr. Templeton picked Costa Rica for more than its balmy weather and world-class surfing. The country is well-known for its eco-mindedness. “My passion is around climate change and Costa Rica has interesting models of integrating mitigation solutions into their economy,” he says. “There’s some progressive educational institutions doing good work there and I plan to connect with them and bring back some good ideas.”

Linda Darragh, co-founder and a board member of Impact Engine, isn’t worried about Mr. Templeton’s departure from day-to-day operations. “He creates the most value working directly with the companies and that’s where his time will be spent” with the accelerator while he’s out of the country, says Ms. Darragh, who also is executive director of the Levy Institute of Entrepreneurial Practice at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

A new leadership team has taken over this month, led by CEO Jessica Yagan Droste. Ms. Droste brings an expertise in operations from her corporate background as former director of sustainable supply for McDonald’s Corp.’s U.S. operations. Joining her as chief investment officer is Tasha Seitz, a partner at Chicago-based venture firm JK&B Capital. Ms. Seitz previously was a managing member of Impact Engine.

Mr. Templeton, who has an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, intends to meet twice a week with Ms. Droste via Google hangout, email and phone. He’ll also schedule conference calls with one or two Impact Engine entrepreneurs he’ll mentor from afar. And Mr. Templeton will return to Chicago for special events, including Demo Day when graduates present their polished business plans to an audience filled with venture capitalists.

“Costa Rica isn’t that far away,” concludes Ms. Darragh. “If he had gone to New Zealand, we’d be in big trouble.”

In addition to Mr. Templeton, Impact Engines super-mentors are Mike Evans, Chris Gladwin, Matt Speigel, Sam Yagan, Thania Panapolous, Dennis Barsema, Steve Farsht, Troy Henikoff, Brian Lernihan, Greg Lernihan, Bob Montgomery and Peggy Eastwood.

– Judith Nemes

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