Shapeshifting Building Would Allow Urban Farming Year-Round

It’s pretty wild stuff. Too wild, maybe. Still it gets you thinking: Architecture isn’t static any more.

One of the biggest challenges of farming in any city that isn’t Los Angeles or Miami is the crappy weather: You can’t very well grow big, juicy strawberries on your rooftop in Williamsburg in the middle of January. So here’s an idea (pie-in-the-sky though it may be): an urban farm that shapeshifts with the seasons, morphing into an open-air field in the summer and an indoor greenhouse in the winter.


The Greenhouse Transformer would be controlled by a hydraulic mechanical system–like what powers an elevator or a souped-up hooptie–that’s capable of lifting the roof clear off the building’s base. In the summer, you’d peel it open. In the winter, you’d keep it closed, and artificial climate control would prevent your fruits and veggies from freezing to death.

Click to zoom.

Importantly, the system would be totally manual. So say it’s an unseasonably warm February day (we’ve had lots of those in New York this year, yay global warming!): At the press of a button, you could crack open the roof half way, and let air and light flood in.

It’s pretty wild stuff. Too wild, maybe. It’s hard to say whether the environmental benefits of year-round produce would offset the mechanical energy required to pop the building’s top every time the sun peeks through, but our guess is that they would not. Still it gets you thinking: Architecture isn’t static any more. Scientists and engineers have pioneered all sorts of ways for buildings to respond to the environment around them. Surely we can harness that technology to help city dwellers grow food closer to where they eat it. (Though maybe in a way that’s less labor-intensive that hand-cranking a whole building?)

The Greenhouse Transformer was designed by Rafael Luna and Dongwoo Yim of the Boston studio Praud. It won an honorable mention in a recent ideas competition on redeveloping a decommissioned marine transfer station in Harlem. Read more here.

[Images courtesy of Praud]


About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D