In the winter, they are oases of green offering respite from the bitter January chill and serving as verdant reminders of warmer times to come. In summer, they’re lush connections to the outside world for those eager to cool off indoors.
They are the living walls at the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, eight organic interior designs — climbing, creeping arms of trees and blocks of ferns and other tropical plants — that are a welcome addition to Harvard’s newly configured social hub in any season. And they are under the meticulous care of Tiago Pereira, a longtime member of Harvard’s landscape team whose work, until recently, mostly took place outside.
On a recent morning, Pereira climbed onto a blue hydraulic lift in the Smith Center to start his day accompanied by two key tools of his trade: a pair of scissors and a keen eye for leaves in need of clipping. Slowly he surveyed the rectangular green web that includes ficus and money trees, maidenhair, rabbit’s foot, Japanese ferns, red maranta, and silver bay plants — just some of the 19 species of the more than 12,000 plants that comprise the arcade’s living walls.
“Sometimes,” said Pereira, as he carefully snipped a leaf here and trimmed a vine there, “I actually forget that I am inside.”
The installations, developed by New York–based plantwalldesign, are made of metal frames that have been covered with plastic squares and topped by two coats of felt. The plants are stapled into small pockets on the fabric’s outer layer, typically in a small amount of soil. As they grow, they abandon the dirt and slowly attach their roots instead to the material, which is soaked with nutrient-filled water — UV-filtered rainwater harvested from the center’s rooftop —three times a day from a series of pipes near the arcade’s ceiling.