Breathing Infrastructures 2020-2021

The multidisciplinary and participatory Breathing Infrastructures project is implementing Urban Living Labs in Buenos Aires with the aim of demonstrating the efficacy of green barriers in filtering air pollution out of schoolyards.

A barrier of greenery against a school railing

The project

Funded by The British Academy’s Urban Infrastructures of Well-Being programme, which ‘aims to support interdisciplinary research that explores how formal and informal infrastructures interact to affect the well-being of people in cities across the Global South’.

The Breathing Infrastructures project is implementing Urban Living Labs in Buenos Aires with the aim of demonstrating the efficacy of green barriers in filtering air pollution out of schoolyards to reduce environmental risks to children’s health and development, as well as generating multiple social and ecological co-benefits through what are also living fences.

It will engage school communities and other stakeholders in co-creation and implementation, and in place-making and place-keeping, thus offering them opportunities to connect with nature both individually and collectively, and enjoy the health and wellbeing outcomes associated with this contact.

Results from green barriers/living fences projects implemented at three schools (and possibly in other settings) will be used to produce business models and policy guidelines promoting the broader adoption of green barriers in cities of the Global South.


The World Health Organisation has identified air pollution as a major challenge to guarantee the wellbeing of diverse urban populations in low- and middle-income countries.

Green barriers are increasingly adopted in countries like the US and the UK to address this problem strategically, with specialised agencies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency specifically promoting their use at schools and other public spaces with a large presence of children that are adjacent to roads and high levels of vehicular emissions.

Emerging work from British researchers also indicates the multiple social and ecological co-benefits that can be expected from green barriers. Whilst these contributions would be highly impactful in rapidly urbanising and environmentally challenged communities across the global South, green barriers are still to be implemented at a significant scale.

The interdisciplinary, problem-oriented, action-research approach of our Breathing Infrastructures project resides in exploring possible obstacles to successful green barrier/living fence programmes and providing evidence of their many contributions to guaranteeing the wellbeing of urban populations through low-cost infrastructure investments and inclusionary construction and maintenance programmes.

Research programme

Within our Urban Living Labs, we will assess the effects of green barriers on air quality and determine the most effective living fence landscape design and plant selection for each site.

Green barriers use the capacity of vegetation (including trees, shrubs, climbers and ground covering plants) to disperse, capture and store air pollutants. They can be planted directly into the ground but may also be hybrid structures comprising plants in containers, supported by fences or other vertical structures, or grown in modular systems on walls.

We will also explore how green barriers can become much more than a top down, technologically driven form of green infrastructure to clean the air. They may also (as living fences) be an innovative means of improving the quality of life of urban populations by increasing people’s environmental awareness and appreciation for the places where they live and work.

This form of place-making can provide mentally restorative environments with multiple benefits for diverse users and increase the potential of in-situ social interactions. Living fence projects can also trigger place-keeping processes that boost social interaction and cohesion through the local formal-informal partnerships needed to secure their implementation and upkeep.

In addition, we envisage our green barrier project as a vehicle for providing training, employment and increased income for marginalised and deprived urban/peri-urban communities.


  • To identify and overcome obstacles to the implementation of a green barrier/ living fence programme with the initial objective of mitigating air pollution in schoolyards schools in Buenos Aires, Argentina;
  • To build capacity for the programme through the development of multisectoral and transdisciplinary formal-informal partnerships;
  • To co-produce and install green barriers/living fences at three schools in Buenos Aires as living laboratories and proof of concept;
  • To investigate and evaluate the effectiveness, multifunctionality and co-benefits of these green barriers/living fences and their durability over time;
  • To develop prototype industry standards to support the future construction of low-cost and inclusionary green barriers/living fences in and beyond Buenos Aires.