Up, Not Out: New Vertical Farming Solutions in Shenzhen and Hong Kong

2 Posted by - July 21, 2014 - Architecture, Asia, Design, Sustainability
Farmscrapers: Asian Cairns

Farmscrapers: Asian Cairns exterior.

China is the fastest growing platform for vertical farming solutions right now, due to the exponential growth of China’s population – 1.3 billion and counting — coupled with the limitations to cultivating food in available, but often not arable, soil. Much of the country’s land is not suited for agriculture, due to building and industrial growth, and the growth of their cities and towns. That’s why vertical farming solutions are coming to the forefront in China: vertical is the way to go if traditional horizontal farming and gardening on the limited fertile soil are to be preserved.
The importance of these solutions can be seen only when predictions of population growth and food production are taken into account: mainly that food production, by 2050, must increase by 70% globally and nearly 100% in developing countries if the food needs of 9 billion people (expected to inhabit the earth by then) are to be sated.

Two architectural designs unique for China have emerged there in the past year, both dealing with these issues from different perspectives – one mixed-use, one single use.

The first is a unique master plan, commissioned by commercial investors for the city of Shenzhen (population now 10 million and counting), and was architected by the Belgian firm Vincent Callebaut Architects.  It features six sustainable Farmscrapers, a portmanteau word combining the words farm with skyscraper. They are also called Asian Cairns, cairns being a word that defines mounds of rocks placed on hiking trails that help hikers with directions. These Farmscrapers or Asian Cairns are pebble-like structures, built like cairn rocks, atop each other, and over a 79-acre area. Each structure is 1,300-feet high with 111 floors. Each floor is built around a central tower, and provides space for crops and grass. Together, Callebaut says, these Cairns form self-contained ecosystems, complete with wind turbines and solar cells. The water created and collected by the plants will be recycled for use within the buildings.

In addition, these six Farmscrapers contain residential areas, offices, and leisure spaces with a central boulevard forming the framework of each tower. Each of these pebbles are created from steel rings, linked to the central spinal column by Vierendeel beams with spaces in between used for suspended gardens.

Net Towers Hong Kong

DyV-Nets, or Dynamic Vertical Networks farming towers.

Mr. Callebaut explained his sustainable design is further defined by the inclusion of an open-air skin of photovoltaic and photo thermal solar cells, as well as a large number of wind turbines covering the roofs. Large basins of viticulture and lagoons of phyto-puration have been included to recycle the wastewater generated by the vertical farms.  Mr. Callebaut concluded by saying,  “In this context of hyper growth and accelerated urbanism, the Asian Cairns project fights for the construction of an urban multifunctional, multicultural and ecological pole.”

“Fights” seems an appropriate word, yet his Farmscrapers are not the only master plan in the Far East fighting for a greater footprint of sustainability.

Last year, a Spanish architectural firm, Javier Ponce Architects, gave Hong Kong a plan for non mixed-use vertical farming, and was recently awarded the Citation in the FuturArc Prize 2013. Whereas Callebaut emphasized the multi-use possibilities of vertical farming skyscrapers, Ponce focused his plan specifically on farming alone.

Ponce’s plan involves a series of what he calls DyV-Nets, or Dynamic Vertical Networks — farming towers rising 187.5 meters, or 615 feet up.  This project will be built in the Tai Po district of Hong Kong’s New Territories, a suburb of Hong Kong itself, whose population is approaching 8 million, on an island whose land mass is just 426 square miles.  Made from lightweight recycled materials, the DyV-Nets would grow food using hydroponics on a series of rotating floor-plates, that pay homage to Chinese rice terraces. The plates expose crops to a maximum amount of sunlight, while natural ventilation plays an integral role in the farm and building functions.

Both designs are part of a greater trend toward architecting sustainable green solutions. Vertical farming designs have also been created and used in Singapore, Malaysia, and the U.S.  In addition to these, many other countries are becoming aware of the limited nature of land, water and food sources, and vertical farming designs may be a scalable answer to this growing challenge as the world’s diverse populations move toward mid-century.

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