Urban farming is no stranger in Shanghai. There are small, soil-based growing operations scattered around the metropolis. In fact, a century ago much of Shanghai’s food supply came from 300,000 hectares of farmland that ringed the city. But like many cities, population growth and urban sprawl did away with most agricultural land on the perimeter. Today, Shanghai is home to about 24 million people. Feeding them has become a challenge that vertical farming can change.

When approached last fall about handling Shanghai’s new 250-acre urban farming complex design and planning, international architectural firm Sasaki was totally intrigued. The project incorporates food production, research and development space, commerce and education, and housing and public park space in one envelope. It encompasses everything a person needs: a place to learn, play, work, eat, shop, and live.

Construction on the Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District site in the Dupong District midway between downtown and the international airport is set to begin in 2018. No old buildings need to be demolished to make way for the new complex. This chunk of land has been farmed conventionally for the past twenty years, the limitations of which inspired devising a plan to turn a portion of the city into a high-tech food production hub. Sunqiao is the beginning of their big picture.

Unlike urban farming operations in Shanghai to date, Sunqaio will blend better with the towering skyscrapers that surround it. A lot of it is going to be vertical farming to capitalize on maximizing the harvest per square foot of land. The towering greenhouses incorporate vertical hydroponics, aquaponics, and automation. But it’s not going to be all indoor farming. Food will be grown outside too.

Some very interesting things are planned to go into this urban farming space. A vertical seed library, for one, illustrated as a towering circle of individual pockets for seed sorting accuracy and easy location. Now there’s something we haven’t seen before. Will it be motorized to bring what you seek to you and browse if you’re not sure? A grower’s seed-o-matic… how cool.

The entire system will be self-sufficient too. To capitalize on sunlight for plant growth, growing beds will rotate along the walls and roof of the multi-story greenhouses. Rainwater harvesting will also incorporate vertical, multi-leveled storage. Even architectural features like support columns will be put to use for plants that need trellising. And planning for structure position and design makes the most of the sun’s energy for crops throughout the complex.

Far more than a lettuce factory. Beyond the agrihood concept. The innovation on this project brought Sasaki Associates the high honor of being selected a finalist in FastCo’s World Changing Ideas in the food category.

Shanghai has a goal to become a leader in urban food production. Incorporating that into the public space with both indoor and outdoor experiences creates a new approach to urban living. It will also rekindle a strong connection between a person and where their food comes from. No hiding behind a suggestive label, or an ocean away. It will be locally grown in a highly transparent way.

Take a good look at planning and design renderings on the links below. They are most interesting.

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Images courtesy of Sasaki.

Callie

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine
Only strangers knock on the door at Callie's house. People who know her don't bother if the sun is shining - they know to look in the garden.