I have this day dream where I play the lottery and win a huge jackpot. I take a big chunk of my winnings and build a large urban farm in Chicago. This urban farm, aside from giving me more space to play with plants, would serve as a teaching center for inner city kids and adults. I already know where it would go and can picture the buildings designed to look like farm houses and barns, the greenhouse, the fruit tree orchard, and nursery. My urban farm would produce organic produce and ornamentals for the community that surrounds it and create future generations of Chicago residents that are environmentally conscious. While I've been thinking about the use of land on a horizontal plane some forward thinking architects have been thinking vertically.
The image above is from an architecture firm by the name of Knafo Klimor and the design is called "Living Steel." Living Steel won the 2nd International Architecture Competition for Sustainable Housing. The concept building was designed to address China's population migrating from rural areas to the large cities. It is estimated that by 2010 50% of China's population will live in cities.This basically is a building with a vertical greenhouse at it's core. The architects behind the design believe that cities that adopt the Agro-Housing principles will benefit in many ways. The population will be reconnected to "basic human values" that have been or will be lost in the process of modernization or progress. There will be less need to transport foods long distances, Agro-Housing residents can feed themselves and their neighbors and in the process new jobs will be created. Cities and people that adopt Agro-Housing will be less dependent on utility companies because the building's design heats the residential units in the winter and cools them in the summer and manages artificial light use.
Is this the future of urban farming and urban planning? Or is this another one of those "cool" ideas that are often seen developed or touted in Asian countries that never really seem to catch on in the West? I love the idea of living in one of these buildings but I'm not sure the current crop of developers would be interested in creating sustainable housing for everyone. A blogger friend of mine that posts under the name OhioMom hosts a recipes blog where she posts meals she creates from locally grown produce. Agro-Housing would be great for someone like her who doesn't have a traditional garden because of limited space. This could be something that all of us would benefit from but what is best for us isn't always what we get. How great would it be to live in a city where you and the people around you lived in buildings that were essentially vertical farms?
The only part of the design I'm having trouble with is understanding how do bees and other pollinators get to your plants? I managed to catch a small segment last light on the bee documentary airing on PBS where one of the participants was discussing how hand pollinating of crops isn't viable in the long run. Maybe an Agro-House like this where you have easy access to pollinate your crops will be the answer if bees ever do disappear. Or maybe instead of a janitor all of the buildings have an in-house beekeeper.
The fact that land in urban areas is so expensive and vanishing at a rapid pace seems to indicate that the future of urban farming is above us, whether it is upon us is a different story.
You can read more about the winning design and see more detailed images at the Living Steel website. The YouTube video below showcases the entries for the 2nd International Architecture Competition for Sustainable Housing.