Architectural trend: vertical farming

Figure 1 Recreated Visualisation of Spark Vertical Farm Proposal for Singapore (Rosenfield 2014)

The overall sustainability of our food supply in relationship to the predicted rise in population has sparked innovative design solutions, which include vertical farming and hydroponic skyscrapers. The sustainability crisis is not being addressed through tangible application and there is obvious hesitation to realise these proposed solutions. There are numerous architectural proposals with great potential being put forward however these green skyscrapers are not apparent in the cities we live in today.

Livestock, agriculture and aquaculture takes up a considerable amount of space which we don't have. Traditional farming methods are, “ruining the environment,” and the projected population of 9.5 billion people by 2050 to feed is unsustainable through the agricultural land available (Despommier 2009). Australia is fortunate to have an abundance of land however; other countries with dense urban environments may not be as lucky.

Vertical farms have emerged as a solution to this problem. One city block with 30 stories can produce 2,400 acres of food (Despommier 2009). It is also more efficient to produce food as a resource through these compact and controlled environments than using traditional farming methods.

Figure 2 Design Graduate – Peter Cheah’s Vertical Farming System ‘STEM’ (Monash University 2019)

A primary reason that many are against this idea is due to bottom line costs. Sceptics wonder how vertical farming can be economically viable, given the often-inflated value of properties in major cities (Despommier 2009). I would argue that the current associated transport costs to move food across the country when it could be centralised into major cities where the bulk of the population reside would offset the initial setup cost.

Current produce transportation methods also emit excessive CO2. Approximately 20% of global annual carbon dioxide emissions are produced from traditional farming practices such as land use, cover change and transportation (Lal 2004). It may be expensive to build these contemporary methods for agriculture, but the overall value gained long-term for the environment and sustainability outweighs this.

Unforeseen events such as droughts, fires, floods or cyclones can create an impact on prosperity of harvests which would be heavily controlled in this new method of farming. Studies show that 30% of what is harvested is lost to spoilage and infestation during storage and transport (Rawat 2015). This would be minimised in city farms as food would be sold virtually in real time and on location due to high demand.

Vertical farming is a great design challenge to explore and previous MADA graduates have showcased their projects tackling this issue at the Dubai Design Week’s Global Graduate Show in 2018.  Peter Cheah, a graduate of Monash has designed an agricultural system named, “STEM” which focuses on the automation of pollination of plants within a hydroponic system. STEM reconstructs artificial exemplary environments for the purpose of cultivating an abundance of quality produce using today’s available technology (Monash University 2019).

Existing hydroponic greenhouses provide a basis for prototype vertical farms now being considered by urban planners in cities worldwide. Vertical farms evidently are space and cost efficient long-term with significant benefits to the environment. MADA has recognised the impact it would make through investing in the future. There are multiple proposals being put forward to tackle this issue architecturally but when will we really see vertical farming reach its full fruition.

References

Caine, Tyler. 2014. Hive Farm Proposes Plug and Play Vertical Farming. https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/hive-farm-proposes-plug-and-play-vertical-farming/514701/.

Despommier, Dickson. 2009. “Growing Skyscrapers: The Rise of Vertical Farms.” Scientific American.

Lal, R. 2004. “Carbon emission from farm operations.” Environmental International 981 – 990.

Monash University. 2019. “Monash Art Design Architecture Undergraduate Course Guide.” Monash University. https://www.monash.edu/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/856427/monash-art-design-architecture-undergraduate-course-guide.pdf.

Rawat , Seema. 2015. “Food Spoilage: Microorganisms and their prevention.” Asian Journal of Plant Science and Research 47-56.

Rosenfield, Karissa. 2014. SPARK Proposes Vertical Farming Hybrid to House Singapore's Aging Population. 1 December. https://www.archdaily.com/573783/spark-proposes-vertical-farming-hybrid-to-house-singapore-s-aging-population-2.

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