San Francisco is no stranger to low-income areas. As tech employees flood into the Bay Area, houses are gentrified, the general cost of living shoots up and people are forced to conglomerate in the few areas that they can afford. With this comes less of an opportunity to buy good food. People are left to find the cheapest option they can – often, this is the least healthy option. This project is centred around supplying these low-income areas with a reliable source of fresh produce through strategic placement of vertical farms across the city. In doing so, the inhabitants are able to acquire healthy food, learn how to grow their own, and gain a sense of community. The goal is to improve the city, one step at a time. In creating such structures, the city will see a marked difference in many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals in San Francisco, such as zero hunger (the farm provides food to lower-income families), good health and well being (quality food allows for an improved living standard and health), quality education (learning about what you’re growing, how to prepare it and how to do it yourself allows for personal development, as well as giving people the opportunity to start their own gardens), industry, innovation and infrastructure (the farm is an innovative way to help those disenfranchised by the global system) and sustainable cities and communities (rather than simply being gentrified, the community is allowed to develop), to name just a few.
This is a short video explaining more about the project
Phase One – Predesign
The people using these farms would be those in the area, as well as experienced farmers and potential volunteers who come in to take care of the farm.
Optimised space. Many of these lower-income neighbourhoods are right in the middle of the city, where space is scarce and expensive. Creating a sprawling facility in these areas is highly unlikely. The solution to this would be to build strategically, as to best take advantage of the space. By doing so, space could be well distributed without taking up a large mass of land. Furthermore, vertical farms are somewhat costly to power. The space therefore cannot be too big, lest the price starts to tower over the actual building, but must be big enough for people to be able to work in tandem, as one of the biggest ideas is to foster a sense of community and to create the initiative for those who attend the farm to go out and create their own gardens.
Sustainability. The sustainability of the farm is another important factor – The building must be designed in order to get access to as much sunlight as possible, rather than being shadowed by other tower blocks. It would also have to be resistant to earthquakes. Vertical farms do save much more water than farms (up to 95%), perfect for California’s seemingly perpetual drought. Water sustainability can be achieved through using an effective and cost-efficient watering system, such as drip irrigation. As such, the implementation of drip-irrigation is paramount.
Well-suited for farming. In terms of actual farming practice, several features are importants: a greenhouse to allow seeds to sprout in protected conditions; adequate light and a regulated temperature as to create an optimal growing environment.; a space for bees to pollinate; a tool shed to store supplies and farming equipment; a place to create compost; stacks, rather than rows, of plants as to ensure more food production. As part of the farm is to encourage people to create their own farms, growing local plants would be ideal. This, however, does not entail the use of soil. The structure will most likely employ non-soil mediums, such as peat moss or coconut husk.
The only other urban farm in San Francisco is run through a collaborative effort from the government’s Parks and Recreation services and a volunteer-based group. This farm would be maintained in a similar way. Of course, there is no guarantee that the farm will get adequate funding from the government, so one can assume that it will have to be incredibly cost-conscious. As outlined above, using natural light, drip-irrigation and pollination via bees or ladybirds will all help to economise, as well as the fact that it is run on a volunteer basis. One possible method could be to recycle materials, such as shipping containers, or integrate the farms into already existing structures. Another method could be employing “parasitic architecture”, where a new structure grows off of an old one, thereby making use of the structure’s surroundings.
Earthquakes are always a threat in the Bay Area. Unfortunately, the most commonly utilised material in San Francisco for mitigating the effects of earthquakes is reinforced concrete, which is not the most sustainable of materials to make. I would therefore have to carefully consider alternatives that allow for a structure that is resistant to earthquakes and still sustainable. One example of this is mycelium, an organic material that, when compressed, is actually stronger than bricks. By looking into this material, I could gain an insight on a sustainable method of architecturally sound construction. Another possible solution is to renovate a building for the fresh purpose of being a farm. This means that very little new materials would have to be made.
This building would need constant upkeep due to the nature of its purpose. People tend to be much less hesitant to maintain an aesthetically-pleasing building, and are more likely to keep on using it in the future. I believe that, by designing a structure that can appeal to people’s aesthetic sensibilities for generations, you have created a building that is sustainable in its own right. I think that taking inspiration from nature in order to create this building has the potential to be suitable, innovative and pretty. Were I to draw inspiration from an organic form or something that everyone can relate to, I think it would be possible to create a building that people will want to take care of for many years to come.
I have planned to renovate a building located in the Mission district of San Francisco. Not only is recycling the building a more sustainable option, the building is also representative of the Mission itself. The Mission is the oldest of San Francisco’s districts, and stands upon centuries of culture. Unfortunately, the area is rapidly being gentrified; residents are being forced from their homes and small businesses are shutting down. Often, gentrification occurs due to outsiders believing that a lower-income neighbourhood is essentially a real-estate cash cow. This building hopes to reverse this notion: the Mission’s community is something to be honoured, rather than shunned for the sake of wealth.
Have you experienced gentrification? Please let me know!
Phase Two – Brainstorming and Schematics
My mood board
The original building’s existing design
Analysis of Needs
- A reception area to inform about the farm
- A farm space large enough for the diverse growth of crops
- A green house for early plant growth
- Storage for seeds, tools and supplies
- Communal area
- a space to take a break and eat lunch
- A seminar space
- A room where people receive education on how to create and maintain their own farm
- Bathroom space
Phase Three – Final Design
DESIGN CONCEPT: “ORCHARD”
16th Street façade
Since the Beaux-Arts design is representative of the area, I was reluctant to abandon it. This project is about a celebration of the local identity, rather than a rebrand. Despite this, I altered the façade ever so slightly as to introduce a hierarchy. By elongating the main entrance to the top of the structure, it clearly stands out as the primary entrance, between the secondary entrances. The climbing vines add a pop of colour and indicate the purpose of the farm.
This area can be accessed from the street, using the secondary entrances. I converted the former office space into the new greenhouse, and made it slightly larger to be able to accomodate more plants. The columns are necessary to hold the ceiling up, but take up space. I decided that they should be wrapped with staggered shelves containing troughs in which the small plants would grow, thereby giving the columns a double use. The bottoms of the shelves would be implanted with LED lights so as to ensure indiscriminatory growth of all the produce. I complimented these columns with more cylindrical shelved structures, spaced intermittently between the columns which hold up the ceiling, so as to maximise production. This also gives the area a forest-like feel, thereby underscoring the concept of ‘orchard’ on which the design is based. The columns on this floor are well-suited to growing greens such as kale, spinach or rocket. I left pathways defined by the lack of columns, so that a visitor would at no point be at risk of losing themselves among the greenery.
This area can be accessed using the primary entrance. I wanted to create an almost mystical atmosphere in the main space – a comforting, intimate space in the middle of a bustling city. The little barriers in between the farming towers represent arches, adding a touch of fairytale-like whimsy to the overall space. Individual columns resemble trees, unifying the designs for the upper floor and the lower floor. Practically, the movement between the space is organised into clear axes, and the exits to either the ramp or the fire escape are easily accessible. The ramp is segmented into three portions: one keeps the inclined plane to allow for accessibility; one is a regular set of stairs; and one is a set of large steps which can be used as a communal seating area. The towers open into the seminar space, so that one may walk through the “farms” in order to access it. This path is also symbolic of how visitors’ minds should open as they learn more about urban farming: the rigid path defined by horizontal towers represents a predefined notion of agriculture; this path giving way to the circular towers represents the beginnings of a more open mind; the eventual seminar space being the openness of an informed mind. The curved form of the seminar space and the reception area reflect the original bow-truss roof. I separated the field and eating spaces, but still tried to keep them connected. The eating space was originally inspired by plant cells; however, it now resembles stepping stones across a stream. These spaces are defined by wood chips or something similar, contributing to the organic motif. The building is meant to create an area of nature-inspired tranquility in the city-scape.
The bow-truss roof has been replaced with photovoltaic glass, fashioned in the same shape. This allows for sunlight to access the top layer whilst simultaneously collecting energy to fuel the LEDs on the bottom layer. The maintenance of the bow-truss shape ensures that the building retains some Beaux-Arts elements. Run-off rainwater would be collected and recycled for farm use.
If you would like to see the design process, please do not hesitate to click here.