Is This Spherical Vertical Garden the Future of Urban Farming?

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The Growroom, a plywood planter-pod from Danish innovation lab Space10, goes open-source to promote sustainable food production in cities. (Photo: Alona Vibe)

Space10, a self-described “future-living lab” located in Copenhagen’s trendy Kødbyen (“Meat District”), wants to change the way we look at food.

Or, to be more precise, Space10 wants to change the way we look at what’s on our plates now in preparation for what will potentially appear on our plates in the years to come as the global population increases, the threat of climate change worsens and the old, tried and true methods of food production are rendered unsustainable. And just a heads up: The future of food, as Space10 sees it, will involve homegrown micro-greens and deep-fried cricket bites.

Whether it’s transforming a dank basement room into a lush hydroponic garden using bits-and-parts hacked from IKEA (Space10, amongst other things, functions as a “external innovation hub” for the Swedish home furnishings mega-retailer) or introducing the masses to Crispy Bug Balls through pop-up events such as Tomorrow’s Meatball: An Exploration of Future Foods (a multi-day program held in Manhattan this past October), Space10’s vision of food in the not-so-distant future is unconventional, adventurous, exciting and above all, local.

Last fall, Space10, in collaboration with architects Sine Lindholm and Mads-Ulrick Husum, unveiled Growroom, an art installation-cum-urban farming solution that somewhat resembles an alien space pod that’s been merrily dragged through a veggie patch a couple dozen times. Bursting with fresh herbs and veggies, the Growroom is indeed a room — or more of a partially enclosed chill-out lounge/greenhouse hybrid of sorts, an oversized planter that pulls double duty as a public pavilion large enough to comfortably accommodate a small crowd.

"We’re inviting you to step inside the growing green haven, smell and taste the abundance of herbs and plants, and hopefully it will spark passion about growing your own food in the future," explained Carla Cammilla Hjort, Space10's inimitable founder and CEO, when the Growroom first launched last September in Copenhagen.

GrowRoom, a build-it-yourself urban agriculture solution from Space10
Space10 unveiled Growroom, a clever spherical planter structure, at CHART Art Fair in Copenhagen. Demand for Growroom prompted the IKEA-affiliated innovation incubator to release build-it-yourself instructions. (Photo: Alona Vibe)

The Growroom made an undeniable splash when it debuted, “sparking excitement from Helsinki to Taipei and from Rio de Janeiro to San Francisco” to quote a press statement released by Space10. And with that, requests for more Growrooms started to pour in from around the globe.

All the admiration was, of course, welcomed. However, Space10 now faced one not-so-small issue: the need to ship facsimiles of the original spherical structure from Denmark across “oceans and continents” to various organizations and individuals wanting to grow their own food in a “beautiful and sustainable manner.” After all, it didn’t make much sense for Space10 to promote hyper-local food production when the actual vehicle for said hyper-local food production was required to travel hundreds upon hundreds of miles from point A to point B. It negated the point.

And so, Space10 has shrunk Growroom and re-released it as an open-source design that’s now downloadable for free. In effect, with Growroom's detailed assembly instructions now publicly available through the Space10 website, anyone anywhere can build their very own spherical urban garden pod. (Plants not included, of course.)

GrowRoom, a build-it-yourself urban agriculture solution from Space10
Growroom is relatively easy and inexpensive to put together, so long as you can access a CNC milling machine to cut the various plywood pieces. (Photo: Niklas Adrian Vindelev)
GrowRoom, a build-it-yourself urban agriculture solution from Space10
Architect Sine Lindholm notes that the Growroom invites 'the visitor into an intimate world where only the visitor and vegetation co-exist for a moment.'. (Photo: Niklas Adrian Vindelev)

“The original version was a pavilion that was meant to spark a conversation on how we move nature back to our cities and start to produce much more locally,” explains Simon Caspersen, communications director for Space10, in an email. “It was more of a design object and conversation trigger, but when we started receiving loads of request from people who wanted to buy it or exhibit it, I decided to open source it. In that process we figured that a 4x4 meter pavilion was quite big for most people, so the new version is much easier to transport.”

Growroom, a build-it-yourself urban agriculture solution from Space10
Growroom, a build-it-yourself urban agriculture solution from Space10. (Photo: Rasmus Hjortshøj)

Measuring 2.8 meters-by-2.5 meters (roughly 9-by-8 feet) but still spacious to accommodate about four people inside, the slightly more petite build-it-yourself Growroom model is, in the words of Caspersen, “not only aimed at individuals but also at neighborhoods.”

On the topic of neighborhoods, those looking to take advantage of the customizable open-source design would benefit greatly from having a maker space, digital fabrication lab or CNC milling machine in their immediate neck of the woods.

While constructing your own Growroom is described by Space10 as being an affordable and “easy as 1,2, 3” endeavor (all that’s needed is 2 rubber hammers and 17 sheets of inexpensive plywood), not everyone has access to a computerized vertical milling device. As with other open-source designs that require specialized equipment, that’s the one potential rub with the design. (Maker spaces are, thankfully, relatively easy to locate.)

Unlike the original Groowroom, which incorporated wooden poles for structural support, the open-source version is completely made from plywood although it can customized as users see fit.

In exchange for providing the masses with the free design plans and instructions, Space10 simply asks that those who download and build a Growroom of their own to "give us a nudge on Instagram" with the tag #Space10Growroom.

Growroom, a build-it-yourself urban agriculture solution from Space10
In lieu of a backyard playhouse, why not get the kid interested in agriculture early by building a backyard vertical gardening sphere?. (Photo: Alona Vibe)

As for what specific herbs and veggies Growroom can accommodate, that all, of course, depends on where exactly you call home — specifically, which city you live in — as the same plants that might thrive in temperate Copenhagen wouldn’t fare so well in, let’s say, Tucson.

Speaking of cities:

The Growroom seek to support our everyday sense of well being in the cities by creating a small oasis or ‘pause’ architecture in our high paced societal scenery, and enables people to connect with nature as we smell and taste the abundance of herbs and plants. The pavilion, built as a sphere, is able to stand freely in any context and points in a direction of expanding contemporary and shared architecture. SPACE10 envision a future where citizens play a different role in their communities. Instead of viewing citizens purely as consumers, we can become producers of our own cities and everyday needs and aspirations. The Growroom is a symbol this new era by offering open sourced food producing architecture, which empowers people locally and offers a better, smarter and more sustainable way of producing and consuming.

While designed for space-strapped urban environments where access to fresh food is scarce, I can see Growrooms flourishing in the ‘burbs as a more space-efficient alternative to sprawling backyard veggie patches. Why not grow up instead of out to make room for other backyard features like a chicken coop, a swingset for the kids or a soundproofed mother-in-law pod?

Growroom, a build-it-yourself urban agriculture solution from Space10
Following its art fair debut, Growroom was installed outside of Space10's main HQ and exhibition space in Copenhagen's Meatpacking District. (Photo: Alona Vibe)

Whether installed in a vacant lot in a dense urban neighborhood, standing as the herb-clad centerpiece of a community garden or positioned in a backyard at the end of suburban cul-de-sac, the aim of the Growroom remains the same: bringing fresh food closer to home.

“Local food reduces food miles, our pressure on the environment, and educates our children of where food actually comes from," says Caspersen. “The result on the dining table is just as fascinating. We could produce food of the highest quality that tastes better, is much more nutritional, fresh, organic and healthy.”

Inset image: Rasmus Hjortshøj