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New “Garden Gate” in Heathrow Airport Uses Plants to Relax Travelers

It’s safe to say airport terminals are not ideal spaces for relaxation. In fact, they stress many people out– but last month, Heathrow Airport installed a series of gardens on the wall of one of the terminals in order to change the culture of what has become, for some, an arduous experience. 

Heathrow’s “Garden Gate” is an experiment– a temporary project installed for six months which includes hundreds of flowers such as the UK’s classic English Ivy and Peace Lily. For the 287,274 passengers who go through Gate 25, Terminal 3 each year, it’s meant to uplift their journey: making the prospect of traveling by plane just a little bit more pleasant. 

Emma Gilthorpe, Strategy Director at Heathrow said in a statement that the initiative is meant to allow passengers to “enjoy a natural sanctuary of rest and relaxation as they make their way through the airport.”

As such, the Garden Gate is a public art installation that is meant to enhance the public’s experience of that space. Yet, it blends the concept of an art installation with nature. Based on the research that proves people are calmer when they are surrounded by plants, the Garden Gate is an experiment of sorts. Does this stay true in the culture of an airport terminal, an environment that isn’t just neutral, but tends to induce stress?

Indeed, a large motivator for this project was the extensive research that has been done in the last decade showing the incredible benefits of plants. For example, a 2010 study by Virginia I. Lohr at Washington State University found that the presence of both indoor and outdoor plants benefit humans. Research has also shown that indoor plants can even lead to increased productivity, as they significantly affect the way people experience a room. 

“The world’s major cities are increasingly investing in green infrastructure, and the Garden Gate, both technically and ecologically, is cutting edge for its ease of installation, unique plant selection, and LED lighting system.”

An airport terminal might be the last place you’d think to install a public garden, but given the amount of people who pass by it, it’s also an ideal space where people from all over the world are waiting with time to pass. Richard Sabin, Director of Biotecture, said of the project: “The world’s major cities are increasingly investing in green infrastructure, and the Garden Gate, both technically and ecologically, is cutting edge for its ease of installation, unique plant selection, and LED lighting system.”

The Garden Gate implements 1,680 types of plants. There are seven panels to the green wall, and each one hosts 240 species of plants. The video Heathrow released for the project shows how they’ve installed the plants to grow in a sustainable way; each panel, moreover, has a water reservoir so that the plants can stay alive for a longer period in an indoor setting. Additionally, LED technology has made indoor plant growth easier, by providing more light with less heat. 

Garden Gate’s particular plant selection was chosen based on research by Dr. Bill Wolverton and NASA who have shown that the English Ivy and the Peace Lily both “absorbed the air around them [and] translocated it to their roots, where organisms turned some air particles into food for the plant.”

Heathrow is not the only airport to installing nature related pieces into their terminals. According to Conde Nast Traveller, officials at Singapore Changi Airport recently installed a butterfly rooftop garden, “with over 100 species of cacti as well as succulents from Africa and the Americas, sunflower and orchid gardens, and a waterfall.” There’s also a Zen garden in the Dubai International Airport as well as an aeroponic garden in the Chicago O’Hare airport. In New York, JFK Airport hosted a rooftop vegetable garden in Terminal 5, and more recently, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport installed a 450-foot underground walkway composed of 13,000 leaves and 24,000 LED lights designed to look like a futuristic, neon forest. In a culture that values immediacy over “stopping to smell the roses”, airport gardens are not only increasingly popular– they are more vital than ever. 

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