Modular architecture is often created as a functional approach to challenges wide in scope, like housing and storage. But in an effort to combat the proliferation of food deserts across Brooklyn, creative agency Framlab has proposed modular vertical farms, designed to generate fresh and conveniently located produce.
The conceptual project targets low-income neighborhoods, which tend to have limited access to food that is nutritious, accessible, and fresh. Due to low property values and other socio-economic biases, supermarkets with a diverse and high-quality array of fruits and vegetables usually shy away from doing business in disadvantaged communities. (In Brooklyn specifically, 20 percent of the population is “food-insecure.”) Framlab’s “Glasir” model hopes to overcorrect for this; the proposed modules, which form a tree-like stack of glass cubes designed to grow fresh vegetables, could be built fairly quickly and easily in urban locations.
Much like trees are able to adapt to their environments—growing tall and bearing fruit—this vertical farm is designed to begin as a single growth center that develops many offshoots (read: branches) as time marches on. As the farm grows, more modules can be stacked accordingly, so the result is a flexible piece of urban architecture that responds to its environment. AI technology is baked into the structure to make it self-sustaining.
“The brain of the system is an AI that enables the tree to optimize its growth and distribution of production modules — both within the tree structure and among neighboring trees,” Framlab said in a press release about the project. “The artificial intelligence, in conjunction with a series of environmental sensors, enables the tree to evaluate environmental conditions (such as solar gain, temperature levels, prevailing winds, the presence of adjacent structures) and adapt to ensure optimized growth conditions for the production modules.”
The system would use aeroponics, which cultivates crops in mist and not soil, and allows for greater absorption of nutrients. The vertical farm, topped with solar panels and framed with cross-laminated timber, harvests all of its natural energy and stores all of its collected rainwater (to be purified and converted into mist), making it a self-sufficient, environment-dependent tool for agricultural change. Depending on the needs of the community, each module can be arranged in a different way, and can be housed in all sorts of public spaces—from sidewalks to parks.
The system is also water-efficient, Framlab says, requiring less than 10% of the water necessitated by traditional, geoponic cultivation, while allowing the use of fertilizers and pesticides to be drastically reduced. The exclusion of soil, meanwhile, means the structures can be built virtually anywhere—especially in the urban environments that often lack access to fresh produce. “While the majority of produce in grocery stores today have traveled extensively from remote, industrialized farms — an accepted necessity of today’s distributed marketplace—the quality of the greens and vegetables suffers because of it,” Framlab wrote. “In a localized supply chain, the greens have higher nutrient levels, lower chances of contamination, and are fresher.”
According to Framlab, each aeroponics module can produce around 480 pounds of vegetables annually, and the entire tree structure can produce around 48,000 pounds annually. The Glasir (which means “gleaming”) farm can be built on a four-square-foot plot of land, making it ideal for the space-starved streets of Brooklyn.