Over the course of 12 months, Queens University Belfast worked alongside the Biospheric Foundation in Salford, England to design and implement a multilevel aquaponic system within an old disused mill. Their intent was to determine whether such a system could be implemented into an ex-industrial building and whether it could be operated successfully in the years to come.
The only real way to test the numerous theories relating to vertical farming is to build a prototype and collect data. The feedback from experiments can help determine whether such a future of urban agriculture could exist. That’s exactly what the research team at Queens University Belfast went and did.
The design itself consists of twelve fish tanks located on the upper floor of the mill, adjacent to experimental filtration systems and window growing systems. The rooftop houses an additional growing system within a large polytunnel. The project took five months to design and four months to implement.
The system was completed eight months ago and it has been producing food ever since. The operation of the system at this stage requires a lot of human interaction, especially regarding maintenance, but Queens University Belfast hopes to minimize this necessity in the future. The system can produce 500 crops and 10Kg fish per week which would give a very short return on investment.
The research team proved that such a system could exist in the future. However, the issues encountered during the design, implementation and testing lead to questions about whether farming systems should be contained within buildings or relegated to exterior surfaces (roof, wall and ground).
This is the first time the architects at Queens University Belfast have really engaged with urban agriculture beyond the screen of a computer, and the project holds great potential for the in years to come. The architects of the future will hopefully be able to broker relations between urban planners and policy makers to help increase the productive nature of the city, and decrease the impact of cities on the planet.