Gallery: SKYSCRAPER FARMING: Farming reaches to the sky


When I saw this fascinating New York Magazine article on skyscraper farming, my first thought was of a much younger and geekier version of myself, who used to play SimCity 2000 a lot on my pc. Towards the end of the game, you’d be able to get an Arcology, that is, a self sustainable building, capable of providing food, water, and energy to the inhabitants of the complex. As I’m fond of saying, you just can’t beat reality these days.

The tools for setting up skyscraper farms have long been in existance, and with growing urban populations and increasing demand for food, the reality of skyscraper farming may soon be upon us…

The New York Magazine article describes the work of Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences and microbiology at Columbia University. He talks about the vertical farm concept, which we previously covered on Inhabitat, that attempts create spaces in the city where farming can occur, thus repairing the world’s damaged ecosystems currently used by this activity. Concepts like these are important, as he likes to point out, by 2050, the planet’s population will require a new farming area the size of Brazil, which couldn’t possibly be provided based on existing farmable areas, and thus the need for new areas from where to obtain food.

A concept design of a skyfarm was profiled for the article. It shows the process by which food would be grown as well as the systems required to make such a building work. In the particular showcased design, the vertical farm would use solar and wind power to obtain it’s energy, water collecting units and a black-water treatment system as well as an optional biofuel generating power plant. The design that he proposed allows for an automated system to select the crops when they are ready for picking.

With the emphasis on locally grown food, the importance of creating spaces within the city is a goal worthy of pursuing and we hope that someone decides to try one of these concepts soon.

+ New York Magazine Article on Skyscraper Farming

+ Skyscraper Farming on Inhabitat


+ MVRDV’s Pig City


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  1. CCF May 13, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Oops, that last comment was meant to read “countless farming livelihoods in the DEVELOPING world”.

  2. CCF May 13, 2009 at 3:10 am

    It’s brilliantly innovative and sounds amazing but a more sustainable, equitable, and efficient use of the world’s agricultural resources would mean that skyscraper farming isn’t necessary. Factors that include (but not limited to) the export tariffs levied on the developing world, prohibitive fertiliser costs and interest rates, patented GMO seeds, cropping for biofuels, crippling foreign debt, mad dictatorships, as well as agricultural subsidies to farmers in the developed world, have led to ruination of countless farming livelihoods in the developed world and subsequent massive food shortage (and its vicious cycle of poverty). This has resulted in vast tracts of perfectly viable farmland left unworked, as well as harvest stockpiles left to spoil. While not discounting the effects of climate change, the current limitations are largely manmade, rather than that of the planet. Skyscraper farming by the developed world could just exacerbate the current problems of food shortages.

  3. Jessssssse November 25, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    I don’t understand the suggestions that putting farming in a building would disrupt a natural order. Farming isn’t natural; it’s man-made, and it often depletes our environment as we perform it now. Surely making some fruits and vegetables more available to people who live in urban cores isn’t going to lead to a dissolution of the ecosystem–it’s the fact of more important pollution and resource plundering that will. I think some are unjustly projecting their general anxiety about the sustainability of a vast swath of our current consumption habits onto this promising idea.

  4. anthony Foo May 13, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Skyfarms are coming to be, the way we will do it is maby a little more low tech than the great vision of the farm tower and white coats stuff, but it is happening.
    the beutiful thing about the technology that is becomeing is its adaptability to refugee camps and war torn zones and environmentaly damaged areas unable to feed the existing populations.
    In not to distant future we will be able to go into any area and start producing with minimal water and have a constant flow of crops within 8 weeks…….

  5. ajs February 17, 2008 at 11:18 pm

    Of course this sort of thing will take off, there is significant amounts of R&D money being spent on it already by governments in places like Singapore and China. The barriers people mention above – sunlight penetration and the weight of soil etc. etc. are not really relevant as hydroponic (plants grown only in nutrient rich water) and aeroponic (plants grown in nutrient rich mist) require neither sunlight nor soil. Together with computer controlled conditions and feeding, high-tech agricultural can yield surprisingly large amounts of crops, and in fact already does in the countries mentioned before.
    I think the point of this idea isn’t to provide all of the food needed in the city, it’s to reduce the amount of food that cities need to bring in from outside, and improve the quality and freshness for the consumer.

  6. Crafty January 29, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    The economy and the price of water/oil will determine the cost of food and growing it. It may become too expensive to transport that food from the country to the city, and irrigating it in the drought hit areas may become unfeasible. Hydroponics is less water intensive, and growing in cities reduces cost of transport. Climate change is another factor to consider, so bringing the plants indoors may become a very attractive cost effective alternative to getting the city folk fed. Remember, indoor environments are spring all year long.

  7. Alex Smith January 12, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    This concept, while not entirely feasible in an American city, would work excellently in ares where Urban growth and sprawl is a major problem, i.e Japan, Bejing, Mumbai ect… Especially with Japan who imports a great deal more than is exported.

    Another thing to consider, if land prices are a major concern, why would you build in the city center? Move the buildings to the surrounding hinterland to where they are still economically close enough and at a distance to where property value isn’t a major concern.

    Great Idea!

  8. Chris Jacobs January 7, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Hey! Those are my buildings! The circular ones. Remember…this is just concept…..CONCEPT…all the buildings would house hydroponic systems….they would yield huge numbers. They wouldn’t have trees…and soil…only hydroponics. And yes…this stuff is real…and this will happen.

  9. L-Dogextreme September 3, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    i think that vertical farming will take off, instead of having farms replace them with pentagonal sky farms that link in together and themn effectivly, they could turn 10 acres into 2hectares and that would produce alot more crops, and in the controlled enviroment water would be used with care, and there would be little or no evaporation

  10. Hyrum August 16, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    This is really cool. I wonder how long the price of farmland will need to be before this becomes economically practical. I imagine it will be a long time in the future.

  11. douwe August 12, 2007 at 11:26 am

    See also the dutch pavilion on the 2000 expo in hannover.

  12. David August 5, 2007 at 9:35 am

    This is a very interesting idea for mankind’s next step in farming. Our old methods are proving to be very ineffective and costly. Not only does it take up valuable space but it also consumes tons of fuel. From fueling the machinery that seeds, waters, and harvests our crops to the fuel required for transporting the crops from the farms to the cities. That entire step is skipped and now local crops is feasible and even more environmentally friendly. If the water treatment and self sufficient energy capabilities can be implemented and to the full capacity that is implied in this article there would be no reason not to start building these in our largest cities.

    Are we looking at the biggest step in agriculture and environmental history? I think so and so should you. Only with public awareness and support will something like this ever take foot and lets hope it does soon and in high gear too.

  13. Joxer The Mighty July 18, 2007 at 11:34 am

    I love sky scrapers, in fact i love big buildings in general. I really hope this becomes a reality soon because it will be a step forwards in human development. Farming in sky scrapers could also allow us to grow GM crops without the risk of contaminating the landscape and other farms. I think sky scraper farming would be a beautiful sight to behold too, just imagine a glowing glass sky scraper at night time with a green colour to it because of the vegetation inside.

  14. Erik van Lennep May 26, 2007 at 7:15 am

    “….that frees up a hell of a lot of land somewhere for something else…..” just a thought, but maybe that land could be rehabilitated as natural habitat? My vision of a rosier future would have interconnected settlement areas as synapses or ganglia within a larger matrix of wild lands. If we don’t find a way to mend the fabric of biodiversity in which we are embedded, it could be a fairly dull, gray, hard, and rapid exit we make from here.

  15. nave May 15, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    There is something that comes to mind, which I don’t think the NYerM mentioned, has to do with Ethanol production. While critics justifiably have many problems with envisioning ethanol as an alternative energy, the crux of their critique has been that there simply isn’t enough land to do it. If the scientist in the article is right and a hundred and fifty sky farm buildings just outside the city of NY could theoretically feed its populous, then that frees up a hell of a lot of land somewhere for something else.

  16. stayhuman April 25, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Mitch…You (and others like you) don’t “care what Mr. Berrry thinks of this” because you have no idea what agriculture is for. You think it is an extractive industry, a one-way relationship (ie, not a relationship at all). Agriculture is not so much about food as it is about soil and our relationship to it. The idea that we can sustain our lives by destroying that of the soil is ludicrous. The future may be a “moving target” but some things don’t move. After all, where will our ideas about how to engineer food come from–and what happens when we dismiss that ultimate source of wisdom altogether (as is the trend)? You shouldn’t be so presumptuous, Mitch.

  17. fishnthat April 25, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Surely its just skyscraper sized hydroponics? Be an excellent way of growing biofuels and the like.

  18. Mitch April 24, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Interesting idea which has me coming up with questions for all –

    If the acreage goes up a factor of 10, you only feed around 1000 people per year on that, right?

    Why do we a priori assume that current economic models will hold and these urban spaces will remain high-value property space as city cores (and now peripheries) empty and even more dramatically, the economics of space itself change when crises approach.

    nave is onto something with the nature of space w.r.t. automobiles. These towers would help reduce transportation pressures.

    while I admire his writing, why do we care what Mr. Berry thinks of this :)

    Let us not forget that the future is a moving target – there is no reason to expect economies of production and space or romantic ideals of agriculture and wilderness will remain the same as they are now.

  19. Michael April 24, 2007 at 8:12 am

    As far as I know this is already a reality albeit not on this scale. Many people in urbanized areas use the balcony space to grow fruits and vegetables aound Europe. I also know of elevated greenhouses/arboritums used for agriculture.

    To my mind this is simple a vastly huger and more complex stage, one that will happen sooner rather than later given the spread of urban sprawl onto green belt land. I suppose one could hypothesize further factoring in costs of tranportaion of food, the new demand for Organic foods and their subsequent higer cost making them more desirable for retail consumption.

    In point of fact Tokyo already has ‘secret’ restaurants the location of which are passed on by word of mouth. These restaurants are usually a converted room in a persons flat but some are considerably larger. Many of these restaurants use vegetables and fruit grown in an urban environment, not ‘imported’ into the city.

    Bored of typing now….

  20. m.anhalt April 24, 2007 at 3:59 am

    Of course there will be a ton of technical problems to sort of, is it not the case with all major technical developments!.

    This idea is not hugely practical as a means of supplying a major proportion of food, but as a supplementary means, it is terrific idea. I think we shouldn’t take our eyes off of the final goal of sky farming, but there defiantly has to be some baby steps among the general public to get such an idea to a point of possibility and sustainability. How about starting with placing smaller gardens on pre existing buildings?. If they are not a means of food production, they will still serve as internal oasis with in the city, and rid our dwellings of the disgusting grey haze.

  21. betty76 April 10, 2007 at 6:00 pm

    i saw winy maas lecture about pigcity in korea in 2004. i have been dreaming of it ever since…

  22. spinoza April 10, 2007 at 3:52 am

    Wendell Berry is not going to cotton to this idea.

  23. nave April 10, 2007 at 2:36 am

    You raise some interesting points relative to skyfarming in the first part of your post. But, the second half, the conclusion, is probably incorrect, I think. Urbanity was the fire of civilization long before the days of burning fossil fuels came around and it will probably remain so long after those days are gone. What is most unsustainable is not high-density living. It is instead this endless and endless, ill-advised suburban sprawl and, by extension, the ensuing love affair with the automobile.

    Take care,

    – nave

  24. justus April 9, 2007 at 12:38 am

    Everyone needs to read these links before they get so carried away with the comments section!
    Most of these concerns and technical details are addressed in the stories or on the website of the project itself. (For example, it’s not 200K square feet, it’s 2.5 million, and the weight is less of an issue — as are growing limitations — because they do not plan to use soil; where natural light is insufficient, artificial light will supplement.) Not all these details are satisfactorily worked out, but that’s no reason to dismiss the idea.

    I agree that the idea is a little disconcerting, but it’s also incredibly suggestive. Where else is the food going to come from? We have a few more billion people to feed, and a true Blade Runner future will be one in which we don’t figure out how…

    Hypothetically, this could lead to more open space, not less, since pressure may come off of farmland to provide food. Certainly, in the absence of farming innovations, you can kiss the Amazon goodbye, and most of the rest of the forests of the world…
    And as for money, well: food is subsidized now, I expect it always will be. It’s not cheap now because no one values the land it’s growing on! This too would have to be subsidized.

    Where there are better ideas, please share them, because we desperately need solutions. But don’t assume that because you don’t understand or like an idea, it can’t work.

  25. Nick Simpson April 7, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    I think the furthest this idea could really go would be through the intergration of some small plots, essentially allotments, into or onto residentially buildings. So for instance planting an intensive roof garden with vegetables for the residents to tend to etc. Have a look at Zedfactory’s Urband Loft Farm…

    As Steven says, this surely can’t be financially viable by itself. Besides, can you get enough sun penetration? Unless you’re growing mushrooms…

  26. Rodrigo Barriga April 6, 2007 at 11:22 pm

    The recent ?… Green age has arrived. For all uf as who think this spatial areas would be an amazing development for humanity, … well they are. Lifetime, has arrived, and with it a conscious thinking and doing in design, Its time to belive next skybuildings have to show respect for future its time to think tecnologies have go to far, for good, its time to act and use all these facts for a better living!. Great job guys!

  27. Kim April 6, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    while I think this is completely doable, feasible, possible and even probable it hurts me to think that we could end up on a plant that looks like LA in Bladerunner. Buildings filled with people, farms, businesses, etc. and zero open space. I don’t care how convenient, fun, exciting that could be I will be like Bruce Dern in Silent Running and go into outer space with a forest if I have to. I feel like I’m living through all those 70’s scifi earthday movies. I don’t even want to think about Soylent Green implications.

    If we fail to get others to understand that growth MUST stop or we weill all perish or worse yet, live miserably, then we must do more. and this, quite frankly is not it.

  28. Architect Leo Mac Ender April 6, 2007 at 3:27 am

    Ideas is allways good but will the building take this new weight?
    Hundreds of tons, what building is constructed to take this extra tons ?
    In my point of vue it´s dangerous for thousends of people to do this arrangement on the old buildings.
    New building constructed for this sort of arrangemang, yes, but on the old buildings, I don´t belive it will be possible at all .
    L. Mac Ender.

  29. Steven Lagavulin April 5, 2007 at 6:36 pm

    Wow, techno-utopians are getting creepier every year.

    How many people will, say, a 200,000 sq ft building provide food for? That’s slightly more than 4 acres. Even with dense planting techniques you’re talking about food for — maybe — dozens of people. Certainly not hundreds.

    And how much would such food cost when it’s being grown on the highest property-value spaces on the planet? And what property developer is going to take on a long range rate-of-return project like this? Perhaps it’s a viable grass-roots project for rehabbed buildings in areas that are economically depressed…

    Large cities are energy intensive structures, to say the least, and are inherently unsustainable, especially in an energy-decline future. The whole of history is marked by the growth and eventual depopulation of large urban centers as civilization’s fortunes wax and wane.

    Real, sustainable culture-change begins when people stop clinging to our unraveling, unsustainable cultural inheritances.

    In my humble opinion.

  30. Jill April 5, 2007 at 11:33 am

    Hi Ingeborg-

    We have seen the Pig City! We covered it last year on Inhabitat:

    + MVRDV’s Pig City

  31. Ingeborg April 5, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Have you seen the MVRDV plans on pigcity? They have been working vertical farming since 2001.
    (Click on ‘het vee’)

  32. gam April 5, 2007 at 6:29 am

    As well, imagine a 10 story putting green …

  33. gam April 5, 2007 at 6:28 am

    This concept could even be extrapolated for urban parkl ands within metropolitan city cores !

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