Greenhouse of the Future.Published on 10th September 2014
The population has increased beyond planet Earth’s means to sustain it. Land is running out. Not enough food can be grown to meet the demand. Food prices rocket and the hungry go without.
It sounds like the opening of a desperately unoriginal piece of dystopian teen fiction, but according to scientists it’s a very real possibility for the not too distant future. Many of the world’s best minds are focused upon the question; ‘how do we solve the problem of expanding population vs. decreasing fertile land mass;’ how do we produce enough food to feed the world?
Some people think that architecture could be the answer. How? Look to the skies.
Have you ever considered the thousands of roofs above you? All that wasted space, available for functional purpose. The urban roof garden is not a new idea; just look to the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia, where plants were routinely grown above dwellings, or more recently, the skyline of Kensington, which the Derry and Toms department store changed in 1936, opening a roof terrace for customers to enjoy. Roof gardens are scattered throughout our cities and are becoming more common, as urbanites search for green spaces. But, could there be a case for looking at the functional potential of these rooftops, rather than using them purely for pleasure?
Rooftop farming, in aluminium-framed greenhouses (by Apropos?), is being posited as a real solution for avoiding a potential future food crisis. In theory, it sounds like either a touch of madness or a touch of genius, and many questions have been raised, not least surrounding the practicality of the idea. How, for example, would some of our buildings bear up under the strain of tons of soil and water? How would irrigation happen? Where would waste products go? Could any greenhouse withstand the elements in such exposed positions?
Those questions are not easily answered, but with plans for some schemes already in place, it seems that the issues raised are not insurmountable.
Imagine a 1970s council flat development, transformed by a series of rooftop greenhouses, which the residents use to fulfil an organic veg box scheme. The produce would be fresh, the residents offered discounts for volunteering their labour and given a green space to retreat to, and the layers of top soil that feed the plants act as unbeatable insulation, lowering the energy bills of the entire estate. This is the vision of Oscar Rodriguez; an architect on a mission to convert London’s cityscape into an urban rooftop farmland.
London alone has 20,000 hectares of roofscape; just imagine the food that space could produce if even half of it was utilised.
Imagine a roofline of glittering, refracted light, bouncing from greenhouse to greenhouse. Imagine a city where greenery can be seen above balustrades, where butterflies flutter, pollinators live on every rooftop and wildlife means more than the odd doughty pigeon. The grey urban sprawl of England could become a sight to behold; breathtakingly beautiful and yet perfectly practical, producing food, reducing energy, creating oxygen, absorbing CO₂, and bringing our cities back to life.
The humble greenhouse: saviour of the human race? May be pie in the sky isn’t such a far-fetched idea after all.
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