Linkoping in Sweden is home to a space-age new building project – the world’s first bona-fide skyscraper farm. It’s an idea that’s been kicking around for a while. Followers of green architecture and design blogs like Inhabitat or Treehugger will be familiar with them – towering greenhouses that grow food for the city, in the city.
It’s all been a bit space age until now, but as this first one gets built, perhaps they’ll get more attention. And then, hopefully, less attention.
For starters, here’s the concept image of the current project. It has a huge rotating conveyor in the centre that slowly moves plants from seedlings to harvesting areas, turning them into the light along the way. CO2 is pumped in from a nearby power station to create a better growing environment.
I have a problem with this image. If growing space is so important, why on earth is this sky-farm sitting in so much empty space? Look at all that circle of green around the base – get some crops in there, or at least some chickens and beehives among the trees. Why is there so much paving? Grow something there too. Put green roofs on those buildings in the background, and some floating gardens on the canal. Then, if you still need more growing space, by all means consider a fancy vertical farm.
This design isn’t the most outlandish, by any means. Here are concepts for South Korea on the left and New York on the right.
I love a fantasy skyscraper as much as the next man, but it’s not sensible to expect vertical farms to feed the world in the future. There’s the obvious energy needs of running water and nutrients up and down enormous skyscrapers, or consider the embedded emissions of a building project like that. You’d get your vegetables locally and save CO2 in shipping, but you’d have to grow a whole lot of carrots to offset the enormous environmental cost of shipping in the vast tonnage of cement and steel in the first place.
The biggest problem is cost. Skyscrapers are hugely expensive, and as well as the building itself, you’d need to buy the inner-city land on which to place it. Your farm would need to be more profitable than the banks or accountancy firms that would be your direct competition for the space. As George Monbiot put it, “the only crop which could cover such costs is high-grade cannabis. But a 30-storey hydroponic skunk tower would be quite hard to conceal.”
There is a place for urban agriculture, definitely, but Havana grows 50% of its fresh produce within the city limits and does it without any multi-storey greenhouses. There’s even a place for vertical farming, although it would more likely involve green walls rather than whole bespoke buildings. I suspect that Sweden’s current project will be an expensive curiosity rather than a model for future farming – but rather than end on a negative note, here are some things that actually could help feed our growing global population.