The Bartlett School of Architecture


Bartlett Alumnus Mac Van Dam Shortlisted in Mayor’s Entrepreneur Competition

18 May 2023

The Bio-Integrated Design graduate’s green wall startup, Vertical Grounds, was a finalist in the competition, which invites inventive and environmentally robust business ideas to take London into the future.

Photo of a woman and two children, with some bench seating behind them, looking at a Living Lattice wall used as an interior/exterior wall

The Mayor’s Entrepreneur programme invites UK-based graduates to pitch business ideas, seeking sustainable projects with an environmental focus to help design the London of the future and confront the capital’s most urgent challenges. Within the competition, winners in four categories – Creative Industries, Environment, Health, and Tech – each receive £20k to start up their business, along with expert mentoring from staff at City Hall to bring their idea to market. 

Vertical Grounds was one of two successful Bartlett entries that made it to the competition's final five - a Bio-ID graduate/alumni trio, Dana Molzhigit, Zainuddin Ansari and Arnav Kele, were also shortlisted for their project Apia.

Mac formed Vertical Grounds Design Lab around the release of the company’s first modular greenwall product, “The Living Lattice” (patent-pending). Mac developed the living lattice from his work in the Bartlett’s Bio-integrated Design Lab during his second year studying Bio-Integrated Design MArch, and he presented the prototype at the Lisbon Triennale in 2022, where it was a finalist in the Millennium bcp Universities Award Competition. Since starting the company he has joined UCL’s Hatchery at Base KX. 

The Living Lattice - Vertical Grounds

The Living Lattice is a patent-pending design that confronts the issues found in current Greenwall systems (poor growing conditions, generic architectural expression, plastic materiality) through a lattice-like form that is filled with 10x more soil than market-leading systems. The Living Lattice is entirely organic, primarily made of cork that is supported by a filamentary wood exo-skeleton. It is the first greenwall product that can be used in front of windows or as a free-standing screen.  

Mac described the impact of pitching at the Mayor's Entrepreneur Competition on the development of his product: 

The two-minute pitch format and multiple rounds of the selection process, which asked participants to submit business plans and marketing videos, allowed me to reframe the project idea as a product concerning a much larger market. I spoke with greenwall specialists and maintenance teams [and] validated that the problems found in existing systems are limiting factors for the growth of this tremendously potential industry.”

The startup is now actively looking for its first large-scale pilot project to showcase the updated design, geared towards simple manufacturing and optimised growing conditions for plants, while maintaining its unique architectural expression.  

Mac Van Dam graduated from Bio-Integrated Design MArch/MSc in 2022, where he was tutored by Andreas Körner, Kostas Grigoriadis and Annete Salmane, and supervised by Marcos Cruz and Brenda Parker. 

The forward-thinking Bio-ID Master’s degrees, which allow students to choose between more design or science based pathways, combine architectural and urban design with bioengineering and computation to develop design solutions for a world shaped by environmental factors. Applications for 2023 entry to the programmes close at the end of May.

More information

Visit Vertical Grounds’ website
Find out more about the Mayor’s Entrepreneur Competition
Read about Mac Van Dam's participation in the Lisbon Architecture Triennale
Find out more about Bio-Integrated Design MArch/MSc

Images: Mac Van Dam / Vertical Grounds
Lead: Interior 2 - Interior View of Living Lattice
2: Exploded View showing Interior Network of Living Lattice
3: Detail View of Living Latice 
4: Exterior - Exterior View of Living Lattice