So far, most existing vertical farms look like big greenhouses or plant factories—all of the action happens on the inside. Warehouses in Chicago, Kyoto, Singapore, and a handful of other cities grow plants with ultra-high-efficiency systems under artificial light, and a recent skyscraper in Sweden, built by the urban farming company Plantagon, raises greens near the windows on each floor. But a new design concept from Aprilli Design Studio takes a different approach, using lightweight decks to provide growing space outdoors on the sides of a giant skyscraper.
The architects aren't the first to embrace the trend of sticking greenery on towers, but they may be one of the first to look at how to use the technique to maximize food production. "Our version of the vertical farm was intended to become an independent, open-to-air structure which would be purely focusing on farming activities and sustainable functions such as generating renewable energy and performing air, and water filtration," say architects Steve Lee and See Yoon Park.
Designed to mimic the shape of an enormous tree, the Urban Skyfarm is covered in leaf-like decks that can provide 24 acres of space for growing fruit trees and plants like tomatoes. The "trunk" of the tree houses an indoor hydroponic farm for greens, and solar panels and wind turbines at the top of the tower provide enough energy to power the whole operation. The design would also capture rainwater and filter it through a constructed wetland before returning it to a nearby stream.
The architects envision the project in the middle of downtown Seoul, South Korea. "It seemed to be an ideal place to test out our prototype since the specific area is very dense and highly active and has been suffering for a long time by all sorts of environmental problems resulting from rapid urbanization," say Lee and Park.
"With the support of hydroponic farming technology, the space could efficiently host more than 5,000 fruit trees," the architects explain. "Vertical farming is more than an issue of economical feasibility, since it can provide more trees than average urban parks, helping resolve urban environmental issues such as air pollution, water run-off and heat island effects, and bringing back balance to the urban ecology."
The design would also provide community gardens, park space, and a farmers market to cater to a demand for fresh, local food in a city where apples can cost more than $20 at local markets.
Vertical farming has already started in South Korea. Another project, based in Suwon, is growing food in a three-story building and may eventually expand into a skyscraper. But the outdoor vertical farm is just a concept for now.
"We believe there will be more attention and discussions of vertical farms as the 2015 Milan Expo approaches, and we hope the Urban Skyfarm can become part of the discussion as a prototype proposal," say Lee and Park. "Vertical farming really is not only a great solution to future food shortage problems but a great strategy to address many environmental problems resulting from urbanization."