Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Farming the Skies

A vertical farm design from a student at the Graduate School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

An article in the science section of yesterday's New York Times posed the following question:

"What if 'eating local' in Shanghai or New York meant getting your fresh produce from five blocks away? And what if skyscrapers grew off the grid, as verdant, self-sustaining towers where city slickers cultivated their own food?"

Vertical farms.

In 1999, a professor at Columbia University explored the idea of a skyscraper-turned-garden with students, creating the below rendering:

Today, several architects have created their own versions of vertical, urban farms and there is a Web site dedicated to the concept. It reads:
By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?

Farming in the z-axis: structural depths filled with produce. Imagine the elevator banter. Instead of aisles at the grocery store, we'd have levels in an elevator: "I'm going to cherries on 7."

I spoke with San Fransisco architect Anne Fougeron yesterday about one of her newest projects (affordable housing for seniors; more on that later) and happened across a rendering on her Web site for a vertical farm. She contemplated such a solution for the City of the Future competition hosted by the History channel and her renderings show a San Francisco where agriculture is woven directly into the urban fabric:

The Times site has a slide show of other towers of food from around the globe. If you want to see an actual structure turned into an urban farm, head to P.S. 1 in Queens for their latest courtyard installation.