The Way Forward

The Way Forward: An Isotropic Radiation Of Ideas And Proposals

Paper on life affirm­ing poten­tials of ver­ti­cal farm­ing writ­ten by Prof. Dick­son Despom­mi­er and Dr. Daniel Podmirseg

The Farm­house, Ren­der­ing. ©2018 cour­tesy of Pen­da and Chris Precht

Bosco Ver­ti­cale, Milano, Italy. ©2019 Poli­na Chistyako­va,

Hyper­build­ing, phys­i­cal mod­el. Prof. Bri­an Cody, Daniel Pod­mirseg, Sebas­t­ian Saut­ter et al. ©2014-2015 Insti­tute for Build­ings and Ener­gy, Graz Uni­ver­si­ty of Technology

Ver­ti­cal Farm Ruth­n­er Turm, 1974 © 2016 Daniel Podmirseg

“It‘s a hell of an exciting time we live in. There‘s so much to do. Every challenge can lead us to great opportunities. The keys are: Design. Confidence. Energy.”

The upcom­ing weeks and months, sup­port­ed by rec­om­men­da­tions from sci­en­tists to nar­row down the effects from the new COVID-19 virus, should be used to under­stand how much poten­tial there is to real­ly become part of a crit­i­cal mass which wants to con­tribute to make the city of the future a more resilient, a more cul­ture -based and - most of all - a more life-affirm­ing envi­ron­ment. Based on the cur­rent rate of glob­al urban­iza­tion, by the year 2050 cities will har­bour near­ly 70 per­cent of human­i­ty. That trans­lates rough­ly to 6.8 bil­lion urban dwellers. For near­ly 90 per­cent of our exis­tence, we were appar­ent­ly con­tent to wan­der about, seek­ing refuge in tem­po­rary shel­ters, hunt­ing game ani­mals, and har­vest­ing wild fruits, grains and nuts. This all changed around 10,000 years ago when we invent­ed farm­ing. There­after, agri­cul­ture of many types rapid­ly spread across the globe, afford­ing us the lux­u­ry of not hav­ing to hunt and gath­er for a liv­ing. Cities soon rose up adja­cent to farm­land. Ani­mal hus­bandry gained in pop­u­lar­i­ty much ear­li­er that the first farms but became part of the agri­cul­tur­al land­scape when the cul­ti­va­tion of crops arose. Togeth­er, these two activ­i­ties held the promise of pro­vid­ing human pop­u­la­tions with a sus­tain­able food sup­ply and an ani­mal labour force to make it work. Whole civili- zations evolved from these ear­ly days of food security.

But as we steadi­ly pro­gressed into the mod­ern era, urban cul­tures explod­ed into an astound­ing num­ber of activ­i­ties not relat­ed to grow­ing food. As the phys­i­cal area of the built envi­ron­ment increased to make room for these new activ­i­ties, farms were forced to relo­cate out­side the city lim­its. Most cities grew hel­ter-skel­ter into rab­bit war­rens of dense­ly packed build­ings, mean­der­ing nar­row streets, and a pas­sel of bazaars, back alleys and dead-ends. Inad­ver­tent­ly, they became very unhealthy places in which to live, and many still are. Today, the sit­u­a­tion is even more exag­ger­at­ed, with most farm­land locat­ed hun­dreds to thou­sands of miles away from dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed areas, cre­at­ing daunt­ing logis­tics chal­lenges whose sole intent is to pro­vide a reli­able, steady flow of food items for city dwellers. In addi­tion, many coun­tries do not have enough farm­land to feed their own peo­ple and are forced to import the major­i­ty of their food from oth­er regions of the globe. For exam­ple, most coun­tries of the Arab Emi­rates import over 90 per­cent of their food, and many of them obtain most of their fresh water by dis­till­ing it from the ocean using oil or nat­ur­al gas to gen­er­ate steam that is then con­densed and stored for use.

Plan­ning the growth and devel­op­ment of the built envi­ron­ment was with­in the purview of landown­ers, for the most part, and that is still true today. As allud­ed to, life was pre­car­i­ous for most urban inhab­i­tants. Ensur­ing that their health and well-being were part of basic munic­i­pal goals and mis­sion char­ters did not man­i­fest until the advent of pub­lic health in the mid­dle to late 1800s. Com­merce was the eco­nom­ic dri­ver that came to define the evolv­ing urban land­scape. Chron­ic ill­ness­es spe­cif­ic to urban­ites impact­ed by expo­sure to sol­id and liq­uid indus­tri­al and munic­i­pal wastes, as well as being forced to breathe pol­lut­ed air is com­mon­place through­out the less devel­oped world[9], large­ly because main­tain­ing a clean envi­ron­ment under the cur­rent con­fig­u­ra­tion of cen­tral­ized grids is labour and tech­nol­o­gy-inten­sive, and hence expensive.

Ver­ti­cal Farm Ruth­n­er Turm, 1974 © 2016 Daniel Podmirseg

Jew­el Chan­gi Air­port ©2019 Tiff Ng,

Change is what defines Earth’s nat­ur­al sys­tems, and it is also true for the built envi­ron­ment. Typ­i­cal­ly, in most mod­ern cities, there are few build­ings that have sur­vived from the 19th cen­tu­ry to the present. New tech­nolo­gies and mate­ri­als for con­st- ruc­tion cou­pled with social pres­sure from a bur­geon­ing mid­dle class has altered the city into a shape-shifter of glass, con­crete, and steel. All one has to do is look up in order to get an idea as to the rapid­i­ty of change in today’s mod­ern city. The urban sky­line through­out most of the devel­oped world is punc­tu­at­ed with con­struc­tion cranes and half-fin­ished new mul­ti-storey edi­fices. Two world wars have also had a sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on the slope of the curve defin­ing the rate of estab­lish­ment of new build­ings with­in cities. Con­sid­er the fact that most Euro­pean and Asian cities were severe­ly affect­ed in both armed con­flicts, with some com­plete­ly flat­tened just 80 years ago. Today, they have all recov­ered and most are shin­ing exam­ples of modernity.

What is wor­ri­some is that there is not a sin­gle mod­ern urban cen­tre that is com­plete­ly off the energy/water/food grids (i.e., self- suf­fi­cient), no mat­ter that we have the tech­nolo­gies to do so. The car­bon foot­print of every city, regard­less of loca­tion, is out of synch with what is required in order to slow down the rate of cli­mate change due to the gen­er­a­tion of green­house gasses. In the opin­ion of the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change, and many oth­er organi- zations as well, if this trend con­tin­ues for just a few more decades, it will be too late to reverse or sta­bi­lize the rate of warming.

“The city of the future will no longer be structurally comparable to the modernist city. The design practice of the last eighty years has brought us to really great challenges that will lead to radical changes in the system in ecological, social and economic terms.”

The cat­a­stroph­ic col­lapse of Earth’s ter­res­tri­al and aquat­ic ecosys­tems will har­bin­ger our own extinc­tion if we fail to act. Solu­tions are des­per­ate­ly need­ed to address this sit­u­a­tion if cities and the 6.5 bil­lion indi­vid­u­als soon to live in them are to sur­vive into the next millennium.

This chap­ter is a syn­the­sis of poten­tial solu­tions, all of which are based on the con­cept of bio­mimicry of the trees that define tem­per­ate zone forests. These high­ly evolved life forms pro­duce food (e.g., fruits, nuts, berries, leaves) essen­tial to the lives of count­less for­est dwellers, sequester car­bon in their trunks, branch­es and roots, har­vest rain­wa­ter, and con­vert sun­light into chem­i­cal ener­gy via photosynthesis.

If a city were to incor­po­rate these same func­tions, using advanced tech­nolo­gies, into its infra­struc­ture, then instead of being par­a­sitic on the sur­round­ing land­scape, a city would actu­al­ly func­tion to sup­port the recov­ery of dam­aged ter­res­tri­al and aquat­ic ecosys­tems by sim­ply becom­ing self-suf­fi­cient. Most impor­tant­ly, each build­ing with­in that new city would be off the energy/food/water grids. Since they would be con­struct­ed using a new appli­ca­tion of wood, cross-lam­i­nat­ed tim­ber, they could also become a major play­er in the car­bon cycle by seques­ter­ing it in their actu­al struc­ture, just like the trees from which they are made. The result would be a for­est of sky­scrap­ers that, seen from a func­tion­al per­spec­tive, would be the equiv­a­lent of an intact tem­per­ate zone for­est. Tech­nolo­gies and the antic­i­pat­ed eco­log­i­cal ben­e­fits for catalysing this rad­i­cal urban trans­for­ma­tion are sum­ma­rized below.

1920 1080 Vertical Farm Institute
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