Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rooftop Agriculture

I've purposely steered away from the pure rooftop farms in discussions of vertical farming solutions recently featured (here, here, here, and here). This isn't due to any particular reason other than I think that rooftop farms area a separate typology in it's own right - as it is focusing on a separate area of emphasis including horizontality and openness to sun and air. For instance I mentioned the greenhouses at Zabar's - but there is also a significant amount of traditional rooftop agriculture.

:: image via City Farmer

Otherwise, plenty of proposals abound for rooftop planters on housing, and event making it's way into corporate campuses for use by workers. One example is the simple Sophos Vancouver Rooftop Community Garden - implemented on an office rooftop.

:: image via City Farmer

Recent proposals (and there have been many along with a lot of press) incented me to look through a number of these rooftop examples past and present as a way of rounding out the vertical farming survey.
First, via The Architect's Newspaper: "The Fifth Street Farm Project has it all: It addresses childhood obesity, stormwater runoff, and climate change. Conceived by a grassroots organization of teachers, parents, and green-roof advocates, the project’s plan calls for a roof farm atop the Robert Simon Complex..."

:: image via The Architect's Newspaper

A troubling quote I think brings up some inherent issues as we drive towards implementation of rooftop farms - and some of the challenges that are necessary to address. As quoted in the article: "In spite of all the good intentions, there are formidable technical hurdles and political challenges to building a farm on top of a school. “There’s a lot of bureaucratic craziness,” said Susannah Vickers, director of Budget and Grants in the office of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, "...Things as arcane as the warranty of the roof—they have to do boring samples and engineering reports—and oftentimes the roof substructure is not able to support the new use.”

:: image via The Architect's Newspaper

These aren't arcane or minimal issues - but fundamental to proper technical installation that meets project goals while protecting the health, safety and welfare of the community - and specifically the kids at these schools. A recent example of a project gone awry in Vancouver, and a related story of the Brooklyn Grange installation in Queens getting a stop-work order for not filing necessary permits reinforces the need for these project to both have the energy of urban farmers, but also the technical backup and processes necessary to ensure they are appropriate. (The stop-work order has subsequently been lifted after permits were filed and a fine paid, which is good news as this project is gonna be pretty awesome).

:: image via Brooklyn Grange Farm

The Brooklyn Grange Farm was preceded by the amazing Greenpoint, Brooklyn rooftop farm 'Eagle Street Rooftop Farm' - which features 6000 s.f. of rooftop growing and 200,000 pounds of soil - not in containers, but as monolithic soil based growing - lessening initial investment and maximizing productivity.

:: image via NY Magazine

A local precursor on the west coast isn't the Rocket in Portland - but rather the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver, B.C. which has been in operation since around 2000 - making it one of the very first examples - and also one with some good economic data: "Hotel accountants say the roof garden produces fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey worth about $16,000 annually."

:: image via City Farmer

:: image via City Farmer

Japan has been looking at rooftops, as limitations in the amount of arable land . City Farmer shows a photo of one example: "Wasted space in the modern metropolis may become productive “farmland” thanks to advances in waterproofing green roofs. Some of the rice used to brew Japan’s popular Hakutsuru sake grows atop the company’s Tokyo office."

:: image via City Farmer

The first issue of Bracket with the topic 'On Farming' offered some One of these is Long Island City: Farming Park.
A bit of project description:

"All too often we see land being taken away for parking and at the same time the reclamation of abandoned parking lots to turn into viable land, specifically farms in urban environments. The project, which is a park and ride facility and urban agricultural farm attempts to combine these two typologies to co-exist on one site, bringing the process of food production and consumption in contact with a major multi-modal transfer point between the car and NYC’s existing public transportation network. The project will provide an alternative option for those accessing NYC by car and also challenge the conventional function of a park and ride facility to provide a greater good for those users and the surrounding neighborhoods; connecting Long Island City and Sunnyside Queens with a much needed public green space. "

:: image via Bustler

As [BRKT] showcases, there are plenty of zoomy architectural options out there - some of these simple and brilliant, others a bit overwrought with possible maintenance and installation issues. One very cool example (that may lean towards the overwrought side of the perspective) - comes via Pruned is Taebeom Kim's Gastronomic Garden - including: "...allotment gardens hovering over — perhaps are even propped up by — compost tanks used for recycling garden scraps as well organic waste of local residents."

:: image via Pruned


  1. The architecture firm I worked at in San Francisco, David Baker + Partners, often incorporated community gardens in affordable housing projects. One of highest-density projects, Curran House, features a rooftop garden for the residents in agricultural containers: While admittedly less-ambitious than some of the projects profiled here, it is low-budget way to get garden plots into a very dense urban project.

  2. Thanks - I remember seeing that project when doing some research on Andrea Cochran (who I beleive was the LA on the project) - and really liked the stock tanks (we've used this idea on a number of projects for both ornamental and gardening projects) - simple and affordable, yet beautiful!

  3. I just love the images from city farmer. Thank for sharing them.


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