It is well known that green walls improve indoor air quality by naturally filtering out toxins, reduce energy consumption by regulating temperatures, provide sound insulation, and help create a peaceful environment. So when Gensler wanted to up the sustainable pedigree of 888 Brannan Street, a five-story commercial office building in the heart of San Francisco’s SoMa District, it knew exactly where to turn: GSky Plant Systems, which has installed four of the five largest green walls in the United States.

In addition to the health benefits, “Gensler wanted a design that would soften the strong element of concrete in the space,” says Hal Thorne, CEO and chairman of GSky. To that end, Debbie Kotalic, the company’s director of horticultural design, worked with Gensler to develop a custom-designed Versa Wall, which is one of four green wall systems GSky offers. (Others include Pro Wall, a green wall designed for the rigors of the outdoor environment, and the Smart Wall, a smaller green cabinet designed to accent interior spaces.)

GSky inserted plants in standard four-inch pots into a 1,226-square-foot tray system and arranged the vegetation in patterns that illustrated movement. The installation is self-watering and self-contained. No water spills onto the leaves of the plants or in front of the wall (the Versa Wall is the only system in the industry that can make this claim).

Maintenance is straightforward, says Dan Ballay, the maintenance manager at GSky. GSky has relationships with contractors in San Francisco who visit the wall on a scheduled basis to ensure it is working properly and perform routine maintenance once a month. In addition, GSky walls can be reconfigured and seasonalized with ease and little expense, making the Versa Wall an infinitely evolvable centerpiece for 888 Brannan Street.

Below are a few more things that make GSky’s living wall extraordinary.


At 888 Brannan Street, no extra lighting was needed; the plants are bathed in sunlight from the building’s skylight.

NATURALLY LIT. GSky always considers lighting when designing a green wall because available lighting determines which plants can be used. At 888 Brannan Street, no extra lighting was needed; the plants are bathed in sunlight from the building’s skylight.

EASY ACCESS. Located in the building’s atrium, the green wall can be accessed and maintained via a lift. Patented (and recycled) tongue-and-groove polypropylene trays are filled with plants in standard four-inch pots, which they will not outgrow.

THE PLANT LIST. Plants used on the installation include neon pothos, Brazilian philodendron, heart leaf philodendron, white butterfly nephthytis, and dwarf schefflera, all of which can be easily found and thus easily replaced if necessary.

HEAVY DRINKERS. An automated, vertical, ebb-and-flow irrigation system allows for efficient water management. When installed with recirculation tanks, which can be stored below or behind the wall, all water is used by the plants, making the wall 100% water efficient.