Compact Growth

Watching as Curiosity toucheddown on Mars got me dreaming about the potentials of a space society. Living in space would require a change in how we design,with tighter living areas and decentralized waste and supply systems to reduce the resource needs of shipping from distant locations. When dreaming of a new society in space it is easy to see the benefits of these changes, yet our cities on earth can benefit from similar design changes. Already a major component of PlaNYC is preparation for the addition of over one million people to New York City, and similar rates of growth can be expected in other urban areas. Future cities of Earth will need to be developed to be more dense and self-reliant to lower their operating costs. Continuing on the previous post’s theme of urban agriculture, food production within society provides more than a local source for nutrition, but also converts our carbon dioxide to oxygen and reduces the transportation and energy costs of supplying from distant locations (ALYSON SHEPPARD, Popular mechanics). This week I decided to look into systems already being designed and tested for compact food growth.

When considering compact growing systems the trend is towards soil-less systems, where plants can be vertically stacked, hung, or floated near a window or along a wall under grow lights. NASA annually hosts an X-Hab Competition which encourages university teams to design regenerative space habitats for future space societies. As part of this year’s requirements, teams were to include robotic gardens, similar to the one pictured below design by the University of Colorado – Boulder team (Rebecca Boyle, Popular Science). This “bioregenerative food system” is based on an aeroponic design, which means it grows plants without a growth medium, employing a misting system using a combination of water and recycled crop waste. While articles are unclear where robotics is used in this system, it is clear how this technology can be used to produce food in a small area.

X-Hab design by students at University of Colorado — Boulder

While the X-hab competition is designing for space societies, similar intentions have driven design projects for here on earth. One such design by Phillips Design released in 2009 (pictured below) uses an aquaponics system to grow fish in one section, then uses the nutrient filled water from the fish in growing crops on the upper shelves. While I have never seen a prototype or further exploration on this design, the full Food Design Probe video by Phillip’s Design with the system in operation, along with some of their other food probes, can be found here.

Phillip’s Design probe for growing food within the home

One system that is being tested and has released some DIY design ideas is Britta Riley and Rebecca Bray’s WindowFarm. Relying on hydroponics, they string together systems vertically, allowing nutrients to drip down between growth mediums. Between their own website and the Digital Learning Foundation they provide a number of resources (DIY plan), for how to build these systems to test in your own home. Their research shows the potential for actual application of window growth systems and a direction for future application.

Using these space and window designs, we can see some of the possibilities for vertical spaces not only to grow food, but to create stimulating facades for buildings. Through utilizing natural lighting, a storefront window farm design would be ever changing, providing mental stimulation, drawing in customers, and providing a source for inspiration and discussion. In the next blog entry I will begin to assemble the concepts of the changing working environment and urban agriculture through conceptual drawings to begin a design exploring patch one – a collaborative, mobile work site.

Have a great week!

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