Tuesday, 16 September 2008

The Sky Farm - by Suzanne Elston

The world is running out of arable land (see our previous post Peak everything). Add to this the rising cost of oil, which dramatically affects both the cost of shipping food and many of the fertilizers used to produce it, as well as the growing demand for feed stocks such as corn to produce ethanol, and the impact of climate change on agricultural production, and it would appear that we are only a few bushels away from a global famine.

That is unless you talk to Gordon Graff, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo.... In architectural schools, “the idea of sustainability is rather vague,” he says. “Architects are closer to the fashion industry than they are to creating sustainable cities. It’s more about fashion than things that matter,” said Gordon. He set out to prove the concept of sustainable architecture is not an oxymoron.

He found direction and inspiration in the work of American architect, Edward Mazria. "I wanted to tackle urban sustainability. The question is, how do we make an existing city like Toronto sustainable?”

(click on images for greater detail)
Gordon's answer is the 59- storey Sky Farm, a new paradigm in urban design and locally- supported agriculture.
Using hydroponic gardening to maximize food production, his design translates 3.8 million square feet of floor space into 11 million square feet of growing area -- all on a mere 1.32 hectares.

By his own estimate, the Sky Farm could produce 54 million pounds of fruits and vegetables, nearly a million pounds of animal meat and nearly a half a million pounds of eggs – enough food to feed 40,000 people year round. A ground level grocery store could sell the produce, making the entire food cycle carbon neutral.

The building’s heating and lighting are provided by a wall of photovoltaic cells and a Living Machine – an anaerobic digester that uses organic wastes from the gardens and an exterior grow wall (depending on the climate) to produce power and filter waste water. By also capturing waste methane from the city’s sewer system, Gordon estimates his Sky Farm could easily provide electricity back to the grid.

Gordon’s second design, Grow Housing, incorporates a smaller version of the Sky Farm into a low-rise city block development that includes condominium and town house units, a grocery market, and street level retail and commercial space. The complex is topped off with a green rooftop that is designed to function as a community garden for low-income earners.
Gordon hopes that his designs will help us to avoid “the tragedy of the commons”, that age-old conflict over finite resources between individual interests and the common good – a pretty amazing goal for this modest 29 year-old grad student from Perth, Ontario.

Once Gordon completes his thesis his hope is that he might be able publish his work, get his architectural licence and start practicing sustainable architecture as soon as he can.
This is a digest of the full text in Elston's splendid blog Your Earth. See also other articles about Gordon Graff's ideas in GROW housing, in Tree Hugger 28 July 08 and The Independent 1 June 08, SustainableCities.net, and Sustainable Buildings Canada (SBC). For different visions of a "Resilient Agriculture" see the CIELAP Nov 08 conference and papers.

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