Friday, May 21, 2010

Vertical Agriculture (Back to Earth)

Digging through the archives based on the last couple of posts, I was definitely struck by the myriad shapes and sizes that these vertical farming proposals take and the overall excitement that has grown in a short amount of time. This caused me to want to dissect them a bit further in terms of form and function for growing food in efficient ways. First a bit of background from the 'invention' of vertical farming on this video featuring Dr. Dickson Despommier.

Discounting for a second those proposals that incorporate indoor hydroponics using artificial light - the idea of growing in buildings using sunlight is the focus (some info about the indoor varieties) of many other projects out there. A few additional proposals worth noting - just to include them in the overall catalogue (as previously mentioned, the best assortment of ideas in this genre is found at the Vertical Farms site - under the auspices of Despommier - which has been interviewed multiple times (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here to name but a few) - call him the mother of this particular invention.

These proposals include this one from last year which got a lot of attention, Harvest Green by Romses Architects, featuring vertically integrated food production.

:: image via Treehugger

Via Treehugger: "The concept of 'harvest' is explored in the project through the vertical farming of vegetables, herbs, fruits, fish, egg laying chickens, and a boutique goat and sheep dairy facility. In addition, renewable energy will be harvested via green building design elements harnessing geothermal, wind and solar power. The buildings have photovoltaic glazing and incorporate small and large-scale wind turbines to turn the structure into solar and wind-farm infrastructure. In addition, vertical farming potentially adds energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals. Furthermore, a large rainwater cistern terminates the top of the 'harvest tower' providing on-site irrigation for the numerous indoor and outdoor crops and roof gardens."

:: images via Treehugger

Another smaller scale example from Romses Architecture features the idea integrated into a eco-community. From Arch Daily: "“Harvest Green Project-02′ as a part of Vancouver ‘The 2030 Challenge’. Harvest Green Project is rooted in a concept that challenges the status quo of how energy and food
is produced, delivered and sustained in our city, neighbourhoods, and individual single-family homes. Taking cues from the citys eco-density charter, and in particular, it’s new laneway housing initiatives, the Harvest Green Project proposes to overlay a new ‘green energy and food web’ across the numerous residential neighborhoods and laneways within the city as these communities address future increased densification. The city’s laneways will be transformed into green energy and food conduits, or ‘green streets’, where energy and food is ‘harvested’ via proposed micro laneway live-work homes."

:: images via Arch Daily

Some others you've probably seen over the years:

Vertical Farm by Mithun
"Architects at Mithun, a Seattle architectural firm, proposed a small-scale vertical farm design for a Center for Urban Agriculture in downtown Seattle. The design won an award in the Living Building Challenge of the Cascadia Region's chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council in 2007."

:: image via NY Times

Food Pyramid (Eric Ellingsen & Dickson Despommier)

:: image via NY Times

Atelier SOA Vertical Farm

Via NY Times: "A vertical farm has to be adapted for a specific place," said Augustin Rosenstiehl of Atelier SOA Architects in Paris, whose firm has created renderings of the crop-filled skyscrapers."

:: image via NY Times

Another version from Atelier SOA - with a woven ribbon of gardens throughout the slick black facade.

:: image via NY Times

Gordon Graff's Skyfarm for Toronto

Via Inhabitat: "Instead of soil, Skyfarm’s plants float on trays of nutrient-rich water, growing hydroponically over 59 stories stacked half a dozen storeys deep. Farmed within a controlled env
ironment, crops will no longer be subject to the vagaries of climate, infestation, or disease and the dense hydroponic agriculture can guarantee considerable yields. With the potential to operate year round, one indoor acre has been estimated to be able to yield the equivalent of between four and six outdoor acres, or enough food for 50,000 people a year. With the installation of several Skyfarms in the neighborhoods of especially large cities, the prospect to dramatically transform local food production is there."

:: images via Inhabitat

“The Living Skyscraper: Farming the Urban Skyline” by Blake Kurasek

:: images via Urban Greenery

Urban Agriculture: Hybridized Farm Bridge as City Garden - Kenny Kinugasa-Tsui & Lorene Faure

:: image via Bustler

A more technical proposal, I covered this previously, but the breakdown of the elements of a vertical farm as imagined in NY Magazine - which shows the interrelated elements of a possible project - complete with robots to maintain them on a 24-hours a day basis.

:: image via NY Mag

I think the much more exciting news is the implementation of large-scale rooftop farms (more on this soon) - which seem to be analoguous to terrestrial farming.
As other bloggers may have noticed, any post related to urban agriculture and vertical farming will inevitably lead to a comment by Charlie - there's been a few, who undoubtedly is paid to plug Valcent whenever the opportunity arises. The message is simple and sweet: "“I can’t think of any technology that addresses more urgent issues than Valcent’s vertical farming system”, says Robert F Kennedy Jr.; Reuters Video features Valcent’s VertiCrop vertical farming system:" Not that I'm wholesale against this form of promotion, but 1) is shameless promotion, and 2) it's not applicable to the content that was posted. Regardless - there will be more of this as companies fight for market share and prominence in this fledgling territory.

:: image via Inside Urban Green

Finally, as I mentioned there's some interesting (and necessary) debate happening, which is worth a read as the pendulum of vertical farming swings back to reality. There's the debate on Treehugger"Vertical Farms, a Tower of B.S." about high-rise farming. Also of note is this recent article in Fast Company entitled which references a story on EcoGeek with some cautionary lessons entitled: "Let's Make This Clear: Vertical Farms Don't Make Sense ".

The vertical farming movement isn't useless by any stretch - but it's important to realize that these proposals - although provocative, aren't the only answer to our issues of feeding people in ever growing urban areas. The discussion is good, although interesting that - not as a mode of discounting the concept - but of placing it in it's proper context around the viability of growing food in cities - and by most importantly making it a catalytic movement in inspiring actual small-scale solutions that will actually work.

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