Green Projects: Redefining How We Build Cities
by Vivian Morellon
We've talked about it before: urbanization, industrialization of agriculture and rapid growth of technology is disconnecting us from our food, our natural resources, and our fellow humans. As we urbanize, we create a high density of people, energy use and (of course) grey architecture – a.k.a buildings, buildings, buildings.
A compact city doesn’t make room for green space and it most certainly doesn't allocate land for local agriculture – this means our food is industrialized thousands of miles away and produced at a low cost before making the long trip back to our table. Traditional agriculture plays a vital role in environmental degradation; in fact, a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that the agriculture, forestry, and land use (AFOLU) sector was responsible for about one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions while using 70% of our freshwater reserves.
The agricultural sector is one of the top polluters, largely due to the fact that it relies on mono-cropping, or simple crop rotation. Mono-cropping alters the microbial landscape of soil, which decreases beneficial microbes resulting in poor plant growth over time. The depleted soil, void of nutrients and susceptible to insect predators, then needs the use of fertilizers (made of fossil fuel) and pesticides in order to produce. These synthetic and man-made “fixes” not only contribute to climate change, but also seep chemicals into our food, slowly contributing to the desertification of land.
It is estimated that 80% of all food will be consumed in urban areas by 2050; but if the land cannot produce, what does that future look like?
If we continue to support these farming methods, even the land that has been allocated for food production will be unable to produce the large quantities demanded by over populated cities. Tall skyscrapers and modern cities, all surrounded by desert, dusty landscapes and unhealthy citizens.
It is said that 90% of the current world population breathes polluted air, at this pace what will 2050’s air leave us with? Cities will become synonymous to pollution as a higher concentration of people will increase energy consumption, contaminating the air without the option of oxygenation that plants and trees would otherwise provide.
Luckily this future isn’t the only certain.
There is a shift in the market – people are investing in personal gardens, supporting community gardens, and buying from local farmers. Slowly, terms like “farm to table,” “local,” and “organic” are the standard, but what if “local” meant “right next to your kitchen?” What if your food could grow next to your table?
No, you don’t have to abandon city life to live on a farm – instead consider vertical farming and green buildings. The idea? Buildings that bring agriculture back to the center of our cities, democratizing food supply, naturally ventilating spaces with clean oxygen and making healthy eating a reality for more people.
The idea is agritechture, the concept of combining agriculture, technology, and architecture in one. Here we discuss how four architectural projects explore this concept, redefine urban architecture and prose a symbiotic relationship between modern city living and green space.
It is estimated that in the next 50 years, more food will be consumed than in the last 10,000 years combined. With this in mind, architects Fei and Chris Precht have created The Farmhouse with the belief that a healthier city is a result of green space.
"Our motivation for The Farmhouse is personal," said Fei Precht. "We live and work now off the grid and try to be as self-sufficient as somehow possible. We grow most of the food ourselves and get the rest from neighboring farmers. We are aware that this lifestyle is not an option for everyone, so we try to develop projects, that brings food back to cities” (Block).
The building is made up of prefabricated A-frames and combines modular housing with community gardens. The modules are made from CLT (cross-laminated timber) made up of three layers. Layers 1 and 2 would hold essentials such as pipes and provide insulation while the 3rd layer would hold all the gardening elements and water supply.
The A-frames can be stacked to make homes bigger and different units would provide varying external systems like hydroponic gardens. On the ground floor, you’d find an indoor market and a communal cellar for food storage and composting units (Block).
"I think we miss this physical and mental connection with nature and this project could be a catalyst to reconnect ourselves with the life-cycle of our environment," said Chris Precht (Block).
Created by Swedish architecture firm Plantagon, the World Food Building is a 17 floor office tower that doubles as a vertical farm. To be completed in 2020, this building will use hydroponic farming – submerging the crops in nutrient-rich water instead of planting large areas of land.
The farms will reside on the south side of the building which is sloped in order to get more sunlight while a nearby waste incineration and bio-gas plant offers heating and fuel. The building uses the nearby power plant excess heat, biomass, and even carbon dioxide emissions into assets for the food’s production. “The waste from the greenhouse is then sent to the biogas plant for composting, so there's a nice circular movement of energy” (Jordahn).
The key? Recycling of resources to be truly sustainable.
"Our goal is to produce the most food on the smallest footprint using the least amount of water and other resources and yet still maintain premium quality while we minimize the use of transportation, land, energy and water – using waste products in the process but leaving no waste behind,” the architecture firm says (Jordahn).
Proposed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, “Skyfarm is a multi-story hyperboloid structure that integrates different types of farming – ranging from traditional planting to aquaponics – while also producing it’s own energy” (Frearson).
The bamboo framed structure was created as a response to the issue of overpopulation – how will we feed so many people while making our food takes up most of our natural resources?
The idea is that this vertical farm could be integrated into cities, but would also be suited to rural areas where land is scarce or soil quality is low (Frearson). The lower level would be made up of markets and restaurants – helping to educate the public on these new farming methods while the higher levels would be occupied by farms as well as water tanks and roof-mounted wind turbine.
“By 2050 the earth's population is expected to grow by an additional three billion people. If we continue to use traditional farming practices, it is believed that an area of land larger than Brazil will be needed to feed these additional people” (Frearson).
Winner at the World Architecture Festival 2014, where it was described as a "thorough, believable and beautiful project, Skyfarm tackles urban farming, hydroponics and renewable energy all in one concept.”
Available in IKEA stores globally in 2021, IKEA has paired up with Dixon in order to create a line of grading products that can be used by individuals to grow their own food at home. While it isn’t a large scale architectural plan, it aims to make food accessible for everyone and allow people to incorporate hydroponic growing methods into their current home (Yalcinkaya).
While this isn’t the first time IKEA tackles this issue, this urban farming line is still in an experimental stage but it will feature a two-story garden that will include a "horticultural laboratory,” where hydroponic technology will be used to grow "hyper-natural" plants.
“If more greens were to be grown in homes, it would have a positive impact on the planet with fewer transports, lower water usage and less food waste.”
The production of food is eating up our natural resources.
Thanks to projects like these, we can create buildings that not only consume but create and give back to their community and environment. If our cities become part of our agricultural system, we will not only rekindle our relationship to food but also support a healthier future by reversing climate change, increasing natural habitat and creating a healthy food system.
Block, India. “Precht’s The Farmhouse Concept Combines Modular Homes with Vertical Farms.” Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2019/02/22/precht-farmhouse-modular-vertical-farms/
Frearson, Amy. “Rogers Stirk Harbour tackles global food crisis with vertical farm concept.” Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2016/03/17/skyfarm-rogers-stirk-harbour-partners-global-food-crisis-vertical-farm-concept-bamboo/
“How Industrial Agriculture Affects Our Soil.” Foodprint. https://foodprint.org/issues/how-industrial-agriculture-affects-our-soil/
Jordahn, Sebastian. “Plantagon designs office block containing a 60-metre high urban farm.” Dezeen x Mini Living. https://www.dezeen.com/2018/01/15/video-skyscraper-plantagon-urban-farm-world-food-building-movie/
Ritchie, Hanna and Max Roser. “CO2 and Other Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions
“Urban Threats.” National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/urban-threats/
Yalcinkaya, Gunseli. “IKEA and Tom Dixon announce urban farming collection.” Dezeen. https://www.dezeen.com/2018/11/29/ikea-tom-dixon-urban-farming-gardens/