Use Your Home’s Architecture to Help Grow Food

In the zero-carbon cities of the future, a closer connection between sustainable home design and food production will be key.

Rooftop gardening

Siegfried Layda / Getty Images

All too often, architecture and food production are treated as completely distinct industries. We do not think enough about how to integrate these two very important areas of our lives. When it comes to design, we forget to look holistically at the intersection between the homes we inhabit and the food we produce. But looking at how to integrate sustainable architecture and food production could be key to forging a better future for all. 

As a permaculture garden designer, I often work closely with architects. I encourage clients to consider engaging a permaculture designer (or sustainable landscaping professional) to work alongside the architect working on their home, rather than getting plans for construction in place before considering the land surrounding their new property. 

Those working in domestic architecture can overlook the importance of working holistically with the whole of a site. Working with an expert in sustainable landscaping or garden design help create sites that are not only sustainable in terms of materials, energy use, etc. but also better meet the future needs of inhabitants—including what they eat. Working with a permaculture designer can also help architects deliver plans that are more likely to meet the requirements of planners—especially in conservation areas or other tricky sites. 

Food production can be integrated with sustainable architecture in a number of different ways. For example:

Fruit Trees and Other Edible Planting for Passive Solar Design

Thinking more holistically about home and garden can help you work out ways to make the most of the sun's energy and how to exclude it during the summer months. Roof overhangs and porch structures are often used to exclude hot summer sun from the home during the summer months. But using fruit trees or other planting could also be key to improving the function and comfort levels inside the home. The planting outside a building could actually be involved in its design and can do far more than just beautify the surroundings. 

Living Roofs or Roof Gardens

Living roofs and roof gardens can also integrate sustainable architecture and food production. Especially in cities, rooftop food production can be key in greening strategies. Roof design can enable the production of a surprising amount of food. And vegetation on buildings can also bring a range of benefits to that building's function, and to the surrounding ecosystems and community. 

Green Wall Planting

Green walls on buildings are usually included for visual appeal and environmental benefits. But they could also sometimes potentially be planted with edible produce to provide further benefits. Integrating systems and installations into sustainable building design for vertical edible gardens is another way to holistically think about these two important areas. 

Courtyards With Space for Home Growing

Courtyards can also often be very useful spaces for food production, especially on city sites. Whether they are communal or private spaces, architects can have a hand in cleverly designing such spaces so that it is easy and convenient for inhabitants to grow their own food. Good design can also make it easier for those living in sustainable buildings to grow in other spaces, such as balconies, atriums, or even stairwells.

Integrated Greenhouses and Conservatories

Sustainable architects can also consider integrating built-in greenhouses or food-producing conservatories into their designs. Earthships are one example of sustainable buildings which have internal space for food production on a highly glazed south side of the structure. But even in more conventional construction, integrating food-producing zones into the home could be an interesting thing to consider. Buildings might even include vertical farms or aquaponics systems—there are many ways in which good design can help people to grow where they live. 

We need to think more about bringing food production closer to home, and we all need to be more in touch with what we eat. Architects who integrate food production into their designs can help to take things in the right direction, solving many problems with a few simple ideas. 

Joined up thinking, and integration rather than segregation are key for a sustainable future. In the zero-carbon towns and cities of the future, a closer connection between sustainable home design and food production will be key. This will involve, perhaps, some of the design ideas mentioned above. But will likely also involve retrofitting existing properties to make sure that the homes we live in really can meet all our basic needs.