Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Farms as Skyscrapers

It's been a decade since Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier launched his "Vertical Farm" project, devoted to the design of skyscrapers that house farms, instead of people or offices. It's an engagement science fiction-esque idea -- no surprise that we've followed it closely on BB (see previous posts below). Last year, the meme spread rapidly when Despomier appeared on The Colbert Report, exposing Manhattan borough president Scott M. Stringer who then evangelized it to the City of New York. For more on that, see "Country, the City Version: Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest" from the New York Times, July 15, 2008.

Of course, the practical challenges of vertical farming -- from energy needs to security -- aren't easy to wave your hand past. Still, the conceptualists press on and the Vertical Farm Project remains the hub for news on these efforts. Blake Kurasek of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Graduate School of Architecture recently published his designs for "The Living Skyscraper: Farming the Urban Skyline." I find the renderings to be incredibly exciting, giving me the same optimistic feeling that I had when I first saw the striking images below from T.A. Heppenheimer's 1977 classic book "Colonies In Space."

By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth's population will reside in urban centers. Applying the most conservative estimates to current demographic trends, the human population will increase by about 3 billion people during the interim. An estimated 109 hectares of new land (about 20% more land than is represented by the country of Brazil) will be needed to grow enough food to feed them, if traditional farming practices continue as they are practiced today. At present, throughout the world, over 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is in use (sources: FAO and NASA). Historically, some 15% of that has been laid waste by poor management practices. What can be done to avoid this impending disaster?

The concept of indoor farming is not new, since hothouse production of tomatoes, a wide variety of herbs, and other produce has been in vogue for some time. What is new is the urgent need to scale up this technology to accommodate another 3 billion people. An entirely new approach to indoor farming must be invented, employing cutting edge technologies. The Vertical Farm must be efficient (cheap to construct and safe to operate). Vertical farms, many stories high, will be situated in the heart of the world's urban centers. If successfully implemented, they offer the promise of urban renewal, sustainable production of a safe and varied food supply (year-round crop production), and the eventual repair of ecosystems that have been sacrificed for horizontal farming.
The Vertical Farm Project

Interview with Dickson Despommier, vertical farming advocate ...
Vertical farming proposals for cities - Boing Boing
Vertical Farming: High-rise urban mass agriculture - Boing Boing

(Thanks, BoingBoing!)

I gotta admit the comments on the BoingBoing original blog kinda kill all the fun in these beautiful drawings, but they have some good points and sense. I just thought these looked cool.

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