Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners is one of the great modern design firms of the world, doing mostly serious work. They have also designed a vertical farm, which recently won the sustainability prize at the Architectural Review MIPIM Future Projects Awards.
Now it is an interesting design, done with their usual care and with engineering by ARUP. According to the RSH website,
Skyfarm proposes an alternative to the typical land-intensive farming systems. A vertical farm, it is designed to produce crops in multi-storey structures within high density urban areas or where there is insufficient land or poor quality soil. The multi-storey tensegrity structure (isolated components in compression delineated by prestressed tension members) is made of light bamboo to create a rigid circular frame and maximise sun exposure onto the farm. These towers support several layers of agricultural cultivation and an aquaponics system that enables the growth of crops and fish together in a re-circulating system; nutrients derived from fish waste are fed to the plants and the plants provide filters for the fish to thrive in.
It has a market and a restaurant on the ground floor, underneath the tanks full of fish. Above that are the hydroponic gardens and above the hydroponics, they save weight by going with aeroponics. Keep going up and you get a vertical axis wind turbine.
The architects note that this isn't cheap.
While the upfront costs of Skyfarm are higher than standard industrial scale agriculture, the ability to grow produce with a short shelf life, such as strawberries, spinach and lettuce, around the year and close to market without costly air-freighting, makes it an attractive, sustainable proposition.
The architects worry that there will be 3 billion more people to feed by 2050 and "If we continue to use traditional farming practises, it is believed that an area of land larger than Brazil will be needed to feed these additional people." But strawberries and spinach are not going to solve that problem. In fact, a lot of people wonder if the concept of the vertical farm makes any sense at all. But they are fun to think about and to look at.
A bigger question, beyond the viability of a vertical farm, is that the Future Projects Awards are "a celebration of architectural excellence in un-built or forthcoming projects." Is a thought exercise in vertical farming really the best unbuilt sustainable project on the boards? If so, sustainable design is in worse trouble than I thought.