Bioshading

Figure 1: Fonterra HQ’s bioshading device. Photo: Ronstan International

Bioshading is the combination of a green wall and/or natural components with a shading system, creating a biophilic building component that is living and changing. Bio shading can filter solar radiation, naturally cool and heat a building, and improve the experience of being inside it.

Adding living elements to buildings and embracing biophilic architecture is a key way to combat the urban heat island effect in cities. Building-integrated, nature-based solutions like green walls and green roofs have been gaining popularity in recent years as research continues to prove their effectiveness in climate change mitigation. Green walls naturally create bio shade, as their natural elements shade interior spaces. 

Shading using natural elements is a design strategy as old as time, but with modern technology, bioshading is emerging as an opportunity to create innovative, integrated systems specifically to improve building performance and contribute to climate change adaptation.

Figure 2: Startup BioShade’s system, that implements a hydroponic system to combine plants and shading. Photo: BioShade. www.bioshade.net 

Bioshading specific systems are indeed starting to slowly emerge around the world. BioShade’s system uses PVC pipes with a closed-loop hydroponic system that feeds plants using a water-based nutrition system, meaning there is no need for soil, and sensors continually monitor parameters for improvement. The system is able to interface to any construction or element in the city and turn it ‘green’ (BioShade, 2024). 

Elsewhere globally, as biophilic architecture seeks to reconnect the built and natural worlds, there is an opportunity to develop specific, effective bioshading systems that can be retrofitted, or added to our cities’ urban context.  

Name of NbS

Bioshading

Location

Urban

Type of NbS

Created or constructed living ecosystems

Case Study:

Fonterra Headquarters

Figure 3: BioShade systems implemented in a city context. Photo: BioShade. www.bioshade.net

Relationship to Indigenous knowledge:

Bioshading does not have an immediate connection to traditional indigenous knowledge. However, entwining the natural world and our built environment is a key part of how our cities move into uncertain futures. Bioshading creates a closer connection to our natural world in urban contexts, something that becomes increasingly important for indigenous communities as they become increasingly urban. 

Climate change benefits
  • reduced air quality
  • increased wildfire
  • urban heat island effect
  • increased temperatures
  • Desertification
  • changes in rainfall
  • Changes in phenology

Increased temperatures:

When compared with traditional louvres as a shading method, Fediuk et al.’s 2022 study proved that bioshading is more effective: “the result showed that the green layer had a lower surface temperature (35 °C) than the louvers (55 °C). It is estimated that this leads to a reduction in the energy consumption of air conditioning systems by up to 20%.”

Our urban environments cover only 3% of the Earth’s surface, but contribute 38% of our GHG emissions (UNEP, 2020) and the last 10 years have been the warmest on record (NASA, 2023). Increased temperatures mean unpredictability in our weather systems and a disturbance of our planet’s ecology and biodiversity. 

Excessive energy use to heat and cool our buildings, and non-renewable energy sources is a massive contributor to emissions. If we can use strategies like bioshading to heat and cool our buildings we can improve energy efficiency through natural, renewable sources. 

Reduced air quality:

More than 70% of global CO2 emissions (through resource extraction, material fabrication, transport, and construction activities) is attributed to the generation and maintenance of cities (Balagtas et al., 2019). Air pollution is increasingly problematic across the world, especially in our urban environments.

Introduction of vegetation helps to improve a city’s air quality- plants absorb harmful chemicals like nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, and release oxygen.

Urban heat island effect

Increasing vegetation is a hugely effective method of combating the urban heat island effect. Research shows that green roofs and green walls are already proving this – temperatures on green roofs can be 30–40°F lower compared with conventional roofs (Glick et al, 2019).

Simple shading from trees can reduce surface temperatures on exterior walls and rooftops as much as 45°F and reduce interior temperatures by reducing sunlight (Glick et al, 2019). This could be improved again if bio-shading technology was developed specifically to achieve even better results.

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Societal / socio-cultural benefits
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Energy security
  • Human physical health and wellbeing
  • Pressures of urbanisation

As our cities densify, our populations grow, our planet warms, and we see the increasing effects of climate change, bio-shading can be a nature based design strategy to improve air quality, lower air temperatures and combat the urban heat island effect.

Finding ways to heat and cool our buildings with natural solutions like bioshading conserves energy, contributing to energy security. Increasing urbanisation means increased pressure on infrastructure, resources and space. Bioshading techniques require minimal energy, and can operate on closed loop systems, self-sufficient from power grids. 

Exposure to the natural world is essential to the health and wellbeing of people, so introducing more vegetation to a streetscape has only positive effects on people’s wellbeing. 

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Ecological and biodiversity benefits
  • Aesthetic value
  • Climate regulation

The aesthetic value of bioshading devices should not be underestimated. Connection between the natural and built environments creates a city that is enjoyable to live in, as it is constantly proven that human mental and physical health is improved by a connection to the natural environment. 

Bioshading can regulate the temperature of a building, contribute to improved air quality and increase resilience to climate change effects. 

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Opportunities, Issues and Barriers, Technical requirements

Bioshading is both an old and new concept. Shading with natural elements is its most simple and most ancient form. In recent times, the rising use of green walls has implemented forms of bioshading on facades of buildings – where the green wall elements naturally shade the interior spaces. 

Now and in the future, modern technology creates opportunities for bioshading to become a specific system technology – created specifically for the purpose of creating building-integrated bioshading devices. There are opportunities on large and small scales. Israeli startup BioShade, for example, are introducing their system as small shading devices around Tel Aviv – creating spaces for people to stop and relax in the shade. On larger scales, bioshading can be introduced in cities, on facades of all sizes. As the technology develops, so too will the ease with which this can happen.

In Oceania, there is an opportunity to implement bioshading into new building designs. Cities like Auckland in New Zealand are experiencing continued urban growth, and as whole new neighbourhoods emerge, bioshading can be an effective method of creating efficient building envelopes with renewable energy sources.

Financial case

While there is cost in consideration of bioshading techniques, and in implementing new technologies, there are significant long term benefits to the building occupants and the wider city/neighbourhood. Reduction of negatives effects to people and environment outweigh any costs in the initial design and construction phases. 

Bioshading can also heat and cool buildings, which means there is less energy required and significant cost savings. 

Figure 4: Explainer of how shading effects heating and cooling. Photo: Climate Launch Pad. https://climatelaunchpad.org/finalists/bioshade/
Figure 5: Green walls and vegetation on the outside of buildings help to shade, cool and heat interior spaces. Photo: https://www.srsgroup.co.nz/blog/living-wall-trends-for-2021/
References
  • Africa, J., Heerwagen, J., Loftness, V., & Ryan Balagtas, C. (2019). Biophilic Design and Climate Change: Performance Parameters for Health. Frontiers in Built Environment, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fbuil.2019.00028
  • Glick, P., Powell, E., Schlesinger, S., Ritter, J., Stein, B. A., & Fuller, A. (2020). The Protective Value of Nature: A Review of the Effectiveness of Natural Infrastructure for Hazard Risk Reduction.
  • Oliveira, M. J. de, Rato, V., & Leitão, C. (2021). Bioshading system design method (BSDM). In Climate Change Science (pp. 195–222). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-823767-0.00010-0
  • Oliveira, M. J. de, Rato, V. M., & Leitão, C. (2021). Proof of Concept (PoC) 1.0—Implementing a Bioshading System Design Method. Biomimetics, 6(1), 8. https://doi.org/10.3390/biomimetics6010008
  • Tang, K. H. D. (2023). Green Walls as Mitigation of Urban Air Pollution: A Review of Their Effectiveness. Research in Ecology, 5(2), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.30564/re.v5i2.5710Vasileva, I. L., Nemova, D. V., Vatin, N. I., Fediuk, R. S., & Karelina, M. I. (2022). Climate-Adaptive Façades with an Air Chamber. Buildings, 12(3), 366. https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings12030366