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Agritecture, Growing Upwards

Agritecture, Growing Upwards

By now it’s become a real faction of architecture: agri-tecture focuses on organizing spaces that cultivate edible plants.

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The movement has a founder, an official blog and an increasing number of followers throughout the world. Bunches of fragrant basil, lettuce, all kinds of cabbages, herbs and spices cover 20 thousand square feet on a supermarket rooftop, which is about to open in Gowanus, Brooklyn, New York. The produce that is currently growing will soon be packaged and sold a few floors down in the fruit and vegetable section, making this supermarket the first American company to integrate agriculture and direct sales on the same site.

Between the reception area and the offices in a Tokyo headhunting company, illuminated tubes showcase vertically growing vegetables and aromatic herbs, which get watered thanks to rain water gathered on the roof. Meeting rooms and common areas feature small planter boxes that employees may tend to, and the walls of the building are covered with vertical gardens. Many famous chefs (like Eneko Atxa at Bilbao's Azurmendi  or Alice Delcourt at Milan’s Erba Brusca) choose to grow their own produce on the grounds of the restaurants, which has given rise to a new professional figure: the garden director. But in apartment building all over the world, social vegetable gardens are becoming a popular and inclusive reality.

The trend of urban farming is becoming more widespread in densely populated cities – and 80% of the world’s population will be living in city centers by 2050, according to the Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier, author of “The vertical farm” – which means that they will be searching for spaces in which to produce the ingredients needed to feed themselves. On the other hand, learning to farm anywhere could help those who live in the so-called “food deserts”, those areas (mapped by the U.S. government here  where finding local fresh food is nearly impossible. Behind these differing needs, a connection is consolidating between agriculture and architecture – agri-tecture – whose name was coined by Henry Gordon-Smith, a Columbia University graduate who authors an eponymous blog, which is the most-followed source on this theme.

Technically speaking, spaces of agri-tecture are buildings that manage to cultivate food and put into practice the concepts of BIA, Building Integrated Agriculture. These concepts are the cornerstone of the global farming movement, which believes that cultivation is possible and practicable in commercial spaces, single homes, public institutions and communal gardens. Today, the big challenge is to rationalize this already common practice, and to take full advantage of tall, vertical spaces (some projects manage to cultivate spaces 10 times larger than more “traditional” forms of gardening). In order to achieve this, academics and experts – architects, engineers, physicists and scientists and chefs – apply techniques “stolen” from the fields of microbiology and physics and are trying to incorporate hot-button themes like environmental impact, consumption, the re-use of water and recycling. And then, of course, there’s the matter of taste.

Many experts are studying future cultivation methods in areas like shipping containers, bookshelves, windowsills and other unexpected architectural features that delight the eyes and whet the appetite. In London, for example, a famous architect has re-purposed some divine Victorian houses into energy generators that help to heat their interiors thanks to their wall gardens. This small miracle will make these homes more green, more energy-efficient and will also produce up to 400 kilos of produce for their residents each year.

After all, there’s no better way to “eat local” than to allow your home to cultivate your next meal.

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