Have you ever wondered how many miles your meal has traveled before making it to your mouth? Most foods have traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to make it from farm to table. Oil powers this travel. Oil also produces the fertilizers used for industrial scale food production and powers the tractors and irrigation pumps. In the United States, 400 gallons of oil equivalents are expended annually to feed each American (as of data provided in 1994)1. In addition to depleting fossil fuels, modern agriculture is also using soil and water supplies faster than they can be replenished. As global oil supplies become more scarce, the cost of our modern industrial food system will become increasingly unaffordable. Simply put, the way we are eating is unsustainable.
The Vertical Farm is a conceptual design for a new method of food production. One that is not only sustainable in terms of oil, water, and soil use, but also provides more affordable, better tasting and healthier food. Farming, traditionally done in fields in the Midwest, will happen inside of hermetically-sealed grow rooms sited amidst the high-rise buildings of populous urban centers. Locally grown food will reduce oil consumed in transportation, while hydroponic and aeroponic growing methods will provide year-round food production with no impact to soil supplies and very efficient use of water and nutrients.
As part of an EPA funded research project, graduate architecture students from Clemson University worked in inter-disciplinary teams of students, faculty, and professionals to engage the community members of Charleston, SC through a series of design charrettes. The aim was to understand not only the economic feasibility of urban farming, but also how a local culture can be grafted together with new methods of food production and culinary preparation to create an empowered and cohesive local food community with a sense of social justice.
This semester-long collaboration between disciplines uncovered a richness of ideas that we don’t usually witness in the architectural design studio. The comprehensive requirements of the studio required a rigorous exploration of design details, such as using sustainable construction methods and materials – employed in the adaptive reuse of an existing vacant warehouse – and the integration of energy-efficient heating and cooling systems with real-time sensor networks for environmental optimization.
For this architecture to succeed, the farming process had to be integral to the building systems just as the city’s culture is integral to its food. Working with scientists, engineers, and organic farmers we learned more than just architecture – we began to design the future of food. The vertical farm is where we will grow, cook and eat together.
Status: School Project
Location: Charleston, SC