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Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Vertical Farming Pt. II: Inspiration from London
(Today’s post is a follow-up to the article on vertical farms that I posted on Monday.)
The Royal Institute of British Architects held a design competition that called for Architects to reimagine London Bridge as an inhabited and socially interactive structure. The winner of the competition was Laurie Chetwood, with his vertical farm design.
Chetwood’s design calls primarily for a large vertical farm integrated within the bridge, but also includes two produce markets, cafes, restaurants, and residential accommodations. There is also a dock so that goods can be brought in and out of the complex via the river. Reassuringly, the design is exceedingly green, incorporating solar heating, a vertical axis wind turbine in the farm, photovoltaics, rainwater harvesting, and an integrated climate system for the entire project.
On Chetwood's design, the judges wrote: “A beautifully presented scheme, wildly imaginative yet very thoroughly considered, both in terms of its construction but also how it could sit within the wider context. The design refers to the surrounding buildings, using them as reference points and inspiration behind the form. It is also full of interesting ecological ideas and on all levels seems to work well. This was a unanimous first choice amongst the panel.”
I wanted to bring up this design not just because it’s creative and sustainable, but because it seeks to occupy an important niche that I didn’t talk about in the last article. The magic ratio that I brought up before – the square footage of growing surface to the building footprint – is certainly an important metric, but it is primarily relevant for buildings with conventional locations (i.e., you’d want a building downtown to be as spatially efficient as possible). But the brilliant thing about this design for a new London Bridge is that it utilizes a previously unoccupied, yet still centrally located area.
What makes the Cuban system of urban farming so appealing and successful is that it doesn’t require any land conversion, instead it takes root in the small plots of unused land that have slipped between the cracks of big building and infrastructure. All it takes to produce a staggering amount of fresh, organic produce is public will, windowsills, balconies, vacant lots, and a few rooftop public gardens. Chetwood’s design utilizes this same principle – the water and the space above it is completely unused. Designs like this enable us to create invaluable new infrastructure out of thin air, and enable us to refrain from knocking down existing buildings to make space for our new ones.
As our cities continue to grow, and we attempt to increase urban density and infrastructure, spatial limitation is going to be one of the most daunting challenges. So while a building’s production capacity to it’s footprint is a good basic metric, we need innovative designers to create previously unenvisioned usable space - whether that means aerial connections between buildings, space over rivers, the new trend of utilizing rooftops, or some new, unthought-of solution. Especially some new, unthought-of solution!
Unfortunately, this London competition was design only, and won’t result in a new bridge. But that’s the value of these competitions: they drive innovation, advancing the designs of buildings that do get built. Chetwood certainly accomplishes this, and through this design encourages a more creative, open approach to urban architecture. While designing for the future density of our cities, architects need to take a tip from artists, and examine the negative space as thoroughly as the positive.