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An intelligent low-maintenance installation filled with plants, designed and built by researchers from the University Centre for Energy Efficient Buildings (UCEEB) of the Czech Technical University in Prague, has been erected at Můstek station on the "green" line A. The innovative element of the city's urban furniture is supported by the Prague Public Transit Company. With the support of the Prague City Council, the project will test the viability of projects improving the quality of the indoor environment in problematic areas of the Prague metro.

In the lobby of the Můstek metro station, accessible from the lower part of Wenceslas Square, an unmissable green installation called METROROST has been living its own life since November. From its polyhedral planter, several dozen plants gaze out at travellers and metro employees, ready to battle with their surroundings for a place in the artificial lighting.

Anna Švarc, the chief architect of the metro, likens a piece of nature in the metro to an oasis in the hustle and bustle of everyday life: "The plant project in the metro brings a vibe of nature - a natural human habitat - into an anonymously industrial environment."Adam Sýkora, the installation's lead designer, also agrees: "The juxtaposition of vegetation and the otherwise conservative environment of the subway is the basis of the visual perception of the element. It belongs there precisely because it contrasts with the surrounding environment. It is like a glimpse into a forest that takes the subway passenger out of the everyday. In addition, the implementation of plants in the metro offers the opportunity to apply the proven effect of greenery on mood, cognitive function and overall mental health of people."

In addition to its atypical design, METROROST also boasts structural and technological maturity. In its construction, the team of researchers from the CTU UCEEB drew on several years of experience in testing the implementation of plants in building interior elements to improve the quality of the indoor environment.As a result, the plants and the entire installation should survive in one of the most inhospitable places the public environment has to offer.

"The complexity of the project was to implement the developed technology into an attractive shell suitable for the demanding operating conditions of a metro station," says Daniel Adamovský, head of the research department of indoor environmental quality at CTU UCEEB, who managed the implementation of the metro plant project. He is referring to the complexity of the environment and the intersecting design requirements that METROROST had to resolve.With the given safety parameters (including material fireproofing and resistance to vandalism), trying to maintain aesthetic quality, a suitable environment for healthy vegetation growth and financial sustainability is a real engineering nut to crack.

The solution to these requirements was, for example, the 3D engineering design of structural elements made of panels and connecting polyhedral blocks made of wood-based material with reduced flammability. These were subsequently produced by the project partner, the Secondary Industrial School and Higher Vocational School Volyně, using CNC machining.This procedure, which allows for the replacement of individual components of the structure in the event of extreme vandalism, ensured, in addition to the safety requirements, the precision necessary for the realisation of the geometrically complicated shape.

A smart measuring and control system takes care of the plants. Sensors are placed in the installation, which feed dozens of values into its "brain".Thanks to this, researchers from UCEEB CTU can gradually optimise the pot's control algorithms to ensure a suitable environment for vegetation growth. They will take care of optimal irrigation, i.e. soil and air humidity. Energy for plant photosynthesis is supplied by broad-spectrum (pro-cognitive) artificial lighting from partner company Spectrasol. METROROST can also solve the problem of freezing weather in the winter months. Based on the measured temperatures, it should respond to a crisis situation by increasing the air temperature in the environment of the above-ground part of the plants as well as the substrate and the lower part of the vegetation. It will also monitor CO2 levels inside and outside the installation.

All this should solve the general problem of green and other installations in public space - their maintenance. One of the long-term goals of the METROROST project is to monitor its sustainability. "What I hope to gain from further research is experience of operating in conditions that are difficult for plants and the individual technical elements of the installation," confirms Adamovský.In his opinion, the metro environment deserves similar care for the indoor environment as we strive for in buildings. "The metro is a space that should be treated in a similar way to other indoor spaces in terms of the quality of the indoor environment, because it is used to transport people. In addition, people often use the underpasses of station entrances to shorten their journey. Of course, ordinary passengers do not spend much time in the metro. But there are also metro employees," he adds.

Ms. Švarc, the architect of Prague metro, agrees with the expert on the quality of the indoor environment from UCEEB ČVUT and adds her insight on the issue of the quality of the metro environment and public transport in general, which, according to her, is essential for the healthy organism of the city, and aesthetics is one of the pillars of its attractiveness: "A functional and beautiful metro is not only the calling card of a civilised and cultural Prague, but also a condition for its further progress. Architecture, design and art are the tools to promote and develop the popularity of this sustainable system." He also recalls the importance of the operational test of the installation in which METROROST is now located. If it proves to be sustainable over time, it will be a great pleasure to continue working with this and similar elements.

Therefore, the UCEEB CTU team will monitor the operational performance of the installation in the long term and use the data to evaluate the effectiveness of the design and the deployed algorithms. There are few better places to monitor the impact of city traffic than in the vicinity of Můstek station. As Anna Švarc aptly remarked, "Let's keep our fingers crossed!"

Contact person: 
Soňa Nosková