I wanted to take this chance to break slightly from the tradition of answering a question. It may be a one-year old tradition, but it is a tradition nonetheless.
On my usual mosey around campus I overheard a heated conversation about the ivy throughout the quad. Whether it is good, bad, or uncharacteristically melancholy.
Ivy, much like Frankenstein’s monster, is mostly misunderstood. You might look at ivy and see beautiful greenery that shield the building like a mighty aegis or an anaconda slowing tightening its grip.
As many of us know, an argument without information is about as useful as an ejector seat on a helicopter. So let's remedy that!
Ivy offers many environmental benefits to buildings. Ivy protects buildings from UV light and reduces the amount air conditioning required to cool the building, but there are some concerns that the vines actually damage the buildings they are attached to.
There are two variables to consider when deciding if vines are beneficial or detrimental: the type of vine and the building façade.
Type of Vine
First of all, I would like to make a point that ivy is just a common name for many types of completely unrelated vine plants. Hence, their basic features can by very different.
Two of the major types of vines are self-adhesive vines and vines that need support. Self-adhesive vines have little suckers that stick to surfaces and are easy to trick. The other vines need to lean or grip something, e.g. telephone wires, mesh fences, etc.
Even within these categories, some plants grow more aggressively than others. Boston and English ivy are both self-adhesive, however English ivy can be rather problematic. English ivy rootlets actually attempt to penetrate the façade, requiring additional maintenance.
You will be happy to know that campus vines are self-adhesive and of a gentle variety. This means that they simply stick to the exterior without damaging the façade. Speaking of which…
Type of Façade
The major issue here is humidity. Humidity can cause serious damage on surfaces like wood or siding. Humidity can cause the wood to crack making it easy to penetrate by the vines. Vines can even pry open aluminum siding!
Good thing we don’t have ivy on buildings made of these materials.
Completely sealed materials like the limestone we have on campus is immune to such stresses.
Everything is fine! The vines on campus are harmless.
If you have a question don’t forget to email it to AskIgnacio@uchicago.edu. Otherwise I might have to “overhear” a few other things. I’m just saying, I’m always there.