Technology & Innovation

Vertical Symmetry

  • 04 Feb 2020
  • 2411

By the year 2050, two third of the global population will live in cities. Large, central city will become denser. High-rise residential buildings are, therefore, both the answer and the challenge for the management of modern cities. The building design and public space development must enhance the quality of life of the people who live in limited area. At the same time, it must contribute in easing environment problems and feeding the growing population.

The book “The Vertical Farm Feeding the World in 21th Century” by Dr. Dickson Despommier and Majora Carter not only envisions an increase in urban farming in the form of agricultural high-rises, but also a solution to the problems regarding water, energy and agricultural encroachment which are both the consequences and the causes of climate change.

Vertical farming therefore becomes the planet-saving goal and profitable undertaking for tech startups, laboratories and designers worldwide. The challenge lies in how to transform limited spaces such as building interiors, shipping containers or parking lots for year-round farming. Innovations in lighting, sound, temperature and biofertilizer are needed to ensure that the food grown remain nutritious despite the lack of soil and sunlight. Recently, researches on farming in limited space tend to be focused on genetic engineering. Zach Lippman, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Researcher and HHMI Investigator, has created tomatoes that grow in grape-like clusters. These new gene-edited tomato plants bunch like grapes and mature quickly, producing highly compact fruit ready for harvest in 40 days, thus increasing the harvest frequency.

From laboratories, the concept has been extended to other ecosystems such as the 6 storey 'superfarm' proposal by france-based STUDIO NAB. The project not only focuses on vegetables and herbs, but also edible insect and fish farming. Built over water, the superfarm reduces the use of land and reuses water. The farming control system is operated by wind and solar energy. Importantly, the building must be located near the city in order to reduce travel distances of food and minimizing transport emissions. 

Even though such full-cycle ecosystem buildings are yet to exist, vertical farms in various areas have begun to produce food while reducing environmental impact, particularly on pesticides and water. Combined with urban farms which employ water and air in traditional farming methods, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that approximately 800 million people worldwide cultivate vegetables, fruits and herbs and rear animals in urban areas which account for 15-20% of global food production.

In fact, vertical living may not be new, especially for countries with limited space such as Hong Kong and Singapore. However, the challenge lies in how to design such limited space to satisfy basic housing needs and beyond as well as to feed both the inhabitants and the growing population without burdening the environment. Modern creators must find a way for people and the ecosystem to coexist the best we can.

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Story : Montinee Yongvikul