Search My Garden Blog with Google Custom Search


The Future Of Urban Farming?

Living Steel By Knafo Klimor, Agro HousingI 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.


  1. It looks like a very cool idea. I have a feeling we probably won't see around here in our lifetimes unless you hit that jackpot. Remember you got to be in it to win it!

  2. LOL,

    Yeah today when I realized that something like this wouldn't be available in my lifetime I became kind of sad. That was made even worse by the realization that in my lifetime they don't discover time travel. Surely if time travel was a possibility in the future my future self would come and visit my current self and give me the lotto numbers.


  3. Maybe it won't be available to that degree, but a dream has to begin somewhere, doesn't it?

    I'm not too fond of city life, but find it almost miraculous when I find a wonderful garden smack dab in the middle of all that concrete. I love the stories about underpriveleged kids learning how to garden in the city.

    And rooftop gardens are just amazing to me... I love the roof in 'Bed of Roses'.

    Maybe if you start it, Mr BT, they will come...

    Have a great week! Chris

  4. Cool idea! It's kind of a inverted nature house (a house built inside a gigantic greenhouse; Apparently the residents grow all kinds of fruit inside those, my guess is that bees and other polinators comes inside when you have to air out the summer heat.

  5. We have the first 21st century farm here in Cleveland, Blue Pike Farm. They also hive beehives which produce the honey they sell.

    Perhaps we can take a page from Cuba and how they turned around their own peak oil dilemma after the collapse of the Soviet Union ?

    My husband can attest to the fact that locally grown fruit and veggies have the taste we remember from our childhoods, I have a freezer full of this years harvest. In the Spring I will be buying a canner, so hopefully I will never have to buy "agri-food" again !

    Don't give up your dream MBT, send it out daily ... "he who waits" :)

  6. Anonymous10:47 AM

    Where does all that dirt come from and how does it get there?

    I love urban farming - I think that there should be lots more of it - but I wonder about the feasibility of something on this scale.

  7. The bees would find the plants - they are regular visitors to the rooftop gardens of Chicago. For this plan to work, food crops could be planted on only the south side of the building. Would the plants have to be handwatered, or would the overhang allow rainwater to reach the plants?

  8. Anonymous2:28 PM


    You right that maybe I should be more optimistic maybe just maybe we'll see this in one lifetimes.


    That's a pretty cool site. I've always wondered what it could be like if we could build a greenhouse over and around a big city. We could moderate temperatures and all that.


    Thanks for the perspective and positive message.


    I forgot to include the link to the firm's website where they have some more photos that I don't see on website for the building. But in those photos it didn't seem like there was any soil used. So I'm guessing the plants are grown through hydroponics or some other soil-less method. The plants seemed to be growing out of something that looked like PVC tubing.

    Unfortunately I can't find the link now.

  9. Mr. G's daugther,

    I guess I was commenting at the same time you were commenting. The greenhouse is actually closed off and gray water and rain collection is used for watering. It is delivered to the plants through drip irrigation.

  10. Leave it to the Israeli's to come up with such a clever design.

    It seems that you and I share the same dream, MBT and I posted on the exact same thing when Carol of MayDreamsgardens posed her questions for us to answer.

    I think we'll definitely see more of this in the future, in fact , in today's Chicago Tribune, Mayor Greenthumb Daley has a lot of greening in store for us already.

  11. Caroyln,

    Funny you should mention that because I was just reading it a few moments ago. Maybe I'm a pessimist but for all the green talk that Mayor Daley does he doesn't really walk the walk.

    We don't even have a simple recycling program in place and it looks like next years expansion of the blue cart program will be far shorter than what people were expecting.

    For starting off as a pioneer of green initiatives for large cities we've fallen way behind.

    Heck whatever happened to his plan to bring us free WiFi? That's dead in the water.

  12. Anonymous12:51 PM

    What a wonderful vision! I posted something a while back about a prpoduct/system called "Green Walls" or such, which looks like a similar kind of technology might come into play -- yes, basically, hydroponics is the key as I understand it.

    As for your bees... rooftop apiaries! There's quite a thing for urban beekeeping, and rooftops seem to be popular in the milder climates (not so useful here in Canada: cold winds and all). I'm not clear -- are the plants all enclosed, a total greenhouse system, or open to the outdoors? If open, yes, the bees can find them (unless you've got a major skyscraper of course, and assuming that there are bees around to visit); but if it's a greenhouse setup, the bees can live and pollinate inside a greenhouse just as well. The trick would be to have them coexist peacefully with any human occupants and domestic pets!

    Thanks so much for a thought-provoking post. Finding it gave me something exciting and enlightening to think about on my lunch hour. :)

  13. That's a very interesting idea. It's good to see design pushing the boundaries. Hope I live to see something like that come to be.

  14. Jen,

    Thanks for such a nice comment and thanks for visiting.


    You and me both. Lets all keep out fingers crossed that I win the lottery or that someone builds at least one of these in our respective areas.



Feel free to leave a comment. You can always use the search box for my blog or the search "Google For Gardeners" if you're looking for gardening information. If you're looking for seed saving information check out "Seed Snatcher"search engine.

Do not have a blog yourself? Comment using the "anonymous" feature. If you have a Twitter or FB account feel free to use the "Name URL" feature so other people can find you.

Thanks for visiting.