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Agriculture Plantagon greenhouse design, geodesic sphere, urban vertical farming

Published on April 16th, 2011 | by Michael Ricciardi

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‘Plantagons’, New Vertical Farm Design, May Provide Produce for Future Cities

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April 16th, 2011 by
 
Plantagon greenhouse design, geodesic sphere, urban vertical farming

In the Developing World, the predominant trend is one of more and more people leaving rural areas and farmlands for the cities — not much different than what has happened in the the US and Europe over the past 50 years or so. It is estimated that 80% of the world’s population will live in or close to cities by 2050.*

Problem: urban environments produce a lot of stuff (including pollution and garbage), but the one thing they don’t produce very much of is food. Produced consumer by city-dwellers is still mostly grown in out-lying agricultural areas (sometime s quite distant) and then trucked over distances to these cities. In the process a good deal gasoline is consumed and  CO2 emitted, making this practice anything but “green”.

Vertical farm concepts for the urban environment are not new, but now, a Swedish-American architectural design company (Plantagon) seems  to have solved once of the biggest challenges of urban vertical farming: the need for uniform, sufficient natural light to provide even growth of vertically-farmed plants.

The solution is all in the design; the “plantagon” features a vertical, rotating “corkscrew” platform for the crops and is situated within a huge, curved-glass, geodesic spheroid structure. By offering the dual benefits of cost-cutting and elimination of transportation, these  “plantagons” are envisioned to spearhead the green urban living movement of the future.

According to Plantagon, their urban greenhouse

“…will dramatically change the way we produce organic and functional food. It allows us to produce ecological [resources] with clean air and water inside urban environments, even major cities, cutting costs and environmental damage by eliminating transportation and deliver directly to consumers.”

The design and concept is not without its critics, however.  Some feel that this represents a “resource heavy” design and that everything — including soil, fertilizer, air and water will have to be imported (or pumped in , in the case of water) from elsewhere to sustain the farm. The construction materials and their transport are further cited as non-sustainable aspects of this design. Further, critics assert that produce would have to be manually harvested, thus reducing the actual productivity of the farm.

vertical farms, urban agriculture

Proposed designs for vertical farms

That said, the designers make no claim that the Plantagon is anything close to a fully functioning (contained) ecosystem (any more than a contemporary rural farm is).  And, a non “green” construction process can produce a structure that is, more or less, “green” in many respects (more energy efficient, non-polluting, economically self-supporting, etc.). Clearly, architectural design is still transitioning towards full sustainability in its construction methods.

Perhaps someday soon a green construction model will be added to this greenhouse design, and will then merge with an autonomous ecosystem design (note: this author is already working on one such design). To paraphrase Steve Jobs: lots of folks confuse bad design with destiny.

The Company believes that the Plantagon® greenhouse design will make  it “economically possible to finance each greenhouse from its own sales.” The company hopes to begin its first proof-of-concept building within 3 years.

*This is the trend in the Developing World (which is composed of over 5 billion persons); a modest, reverse trend (towards country, or more rural living) seems to be happening in some urban centers in the US and Europe (Note: by 2050, the world’s population may exceed 15 10 billion.)

Read more (and view more images) at the Inhabitat blog article: Plantagon: a Massive Geodesic Dome Farm for the Future by Ariel Schwartz

Top image: Courtesy of Plantagon (via Inhabitat.com)

Bottom photo (vertical farm designs): Chris Jacobs, Gordon Graff, SOA ARCHITECTES; Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

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About the Author

Michael Ricciardi is a well-published writer of science/nature/technology articles as well as essays, poetry and short fiction. Michael has interviewed dozen of scientists from many scientific fields, including Brain Greene, Paul Steinhardt, Arthur Shapiro, and Nobel Laureate Ilya Progogine (deceased). Michael was trained as a naturalist and taught ecology and natural science on Cape Cod, Mass. from 1986-1991. His first arts grant was for production of the environmental (video) documentary 'The Jones River - A Natural History', 1987-88 (Kingston, Mass.). Michael is an award winning, internationally screened video artist. Two of his more recent short videos; 'A Time of Water Bountiful' and 'My Name is HAM' (an "imagined memoir" about the first chimp in space), and several other short videos, can be viewed on his website (http://www.chaosmosis.net). He is also the author of the (Kindle) ebook: Artful Survival ~ Creative Options for Chaotic Times



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  • A Small Farmer

    It’s an interesting design, but a few would have to be built and subjected to a trial, longer term, to see if it’s viable.

    One of the BIG unmentioned drawbacks in this design, being that it’s in an enclosed space, with presumably, plants grown in close proximity, is the rapid spread of plant diseases or infections that could wipe out crops.

    It can be an issue in plain ol’ greenhouses, and it usually means culling the one species, potentially, everything in the enclosed space, and the associated financial hit for the grower with a lost crop cycle.

    Being that I haven’t grown large scale greenhouses, I don’t know how to comment properly on the “organic” name dropping done in the article, but… if you have a fungal or other very persistent infection invading a greenhouse, often the only way to remove it, without reinfecting the next generation of crop, is with fungicides and fumigation (most all of which would void organic certifications that take years to establish).

    Sorry thought of another: Sunlight. Unless that whole corkscrew is slowly rotated through the daylight period, some of the corkscrew plane would be completely obscured from direct sunlight, by both the center support, and by being on the “north side” of the corkscrew plane.

    • Anonymous

      Consider the area of glass compared to the growing area. Large waste of material.

      Rooftop greenhouses would be a more efficient use of materials.

      Consider buildings constructed so that the rooftop growing space was the ideal size to keep a couple of gardeners busy. Perhaps a series of buildings of the same height with walkways connecting the greenhouses. What you don’t want is greenhouses so small that the gardeners spend a lot of time moving from site to site.

      Build the greenhouses over office or residential buildings and you’ve got a built-in market for the produce.

      Orient the buildings E/W and install solar panels along the south roof edge, just below greenhouse level, and the gardeners can also be the people who keep the solar panels clean and adjusted for solar season.

      • http://www.chaosmosis.net Michael Ricciardi

        These are all good and valid critiques (some I thought of as i was writing up the piece)…but man, does it look cool!…hmm?

  • http://frontloadwasherreviews.blogspot.com Bryan

    Even if we remove the “green” aspects of this. One of the arguements against the use of ethanol is that, as of now, it comes from food stuffs largely, which people argue increases the cost of food. Well, what happens when that 40 acre farm to grow some vegetables on cost 200 million to get up and running? How much will a dozen ears of corn cost then?

  • Bpl5019

    This design would only provide benefits where light is either not the limiting factor in growth or where it can be supplemented by cheap electrical energy (cheap enough that it’s more cost effective to grow things in a mechanically complex structure rather than ship it from a field). I’m with Bob_Wallace on this one: try roof top and empty lot gardens and then consider this.

  • Anonymous

    Has anyone calculated the actual growing area compared to the footprint of this idea? Just looking at it, there doesn’t seem to be all that much gained. And at the cost of very involved structure.

    Why not just do more traditional greenhouses on top of existing buildings? Parking garages would be ideal. Gardeners could drive to work.

    You could use the extra heat to assist the building HVAC system rather than simply venting it off into the atmosphere as will have to be done with this glass sphere. And the building would add mass to store heat to help the rooftop plants make it through cold nights.

    All of these vertical farms – I get the feeling that none of the designers have ever tried indoor/greenhouse gardening. Or contemplated spending ones working day on a slant.

    Perhaps they should spend a shift in the Guggenheim…

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