De Baarsjes in Amsterdam is a multicultural neighbourhood that is home to people from 129 different countries. The city district wanted to boost community life in the neighbourhood, so they hired local firm VenhoevenCS to dream up a building that combines swimming pools, a therapy pool, fitness, aerobics, a sauna and steam bath, a party centre, café and childcare alongside a restaurant. The result is SportPlaza Mercator, completed in 2006 and recently nominated for the inaugural Green Building Award, organized by Dak & Gevel Groen magazine in the Netherlands.
"Because the building was constructed in a park we wanted to preserve as much as possible, we completely covered it in vegetation, camouflaging its diverse program," explain the architects. "From a distance, it seems like an overgrown fortress flanking and protecting the entryway to the nineteenth century city."
Originally developed by vertical garden maestro Patrick Blanc, the vegetation-covered walls were further developed by a Dutch company, Copijn, which created what they call the "Wonderwall." The multilayered wall includes the growing wall, made of metal, plastic and a felt fleece with notches and small buckets, each with its own plant. Integrated in the growing wall is a rain and feeding system with hoses and sensors. Over 50 different kinds of plants, bushes and trees have been planted in the roofs and facades, and every wall has its own climate and therefore its own kind of plants.