How can sustainable architecture stop gentrification and build community?

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.

The site

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!

“I think the most concrete way our cultures are expressed is through solidarity. Historically, our ancestors have always been displaced, the Mission is our home and gentrification is modern displacement.”

Simone, a Mission resident

3140-3150 16th St, Mission District, San Francisco

Phase Two – Brainstorming and Schematics

My mood board

The original building’s existing design

Bottom floor
Top floor
16th St elevation

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


16th Street façade

16th Street elevation

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.

Street view

Bottom floor

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.

Activities in the farm

Top floor

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.

Looking at plants on the top floor

Sky view

View from above

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.

Bird’s eye view

If you would like to see the design process, please do not hesitate to click here.

Share this project
  1. April 22, 2020 by Agathe Alexandre

    Wonderful presentation! Your understanding of the local environment and issues currently affecting San Fransisco, tied in with your will to provide effective solutions are a great strength in this project. Your multiple colourful sketches, pictures and 3D model all help to visualise the idea that your text does of a wonderful job of explaining. The environmentally-conscious side of you project, which includes a thought out plan for both the water and energy consumption of your building, show that you have put considerable effort into researching appropriate and innovative technologies to reduce the ecological impact of your building on the local area. Overall, this very interesting as well as informative read only highlights the great effort you put into this project. Great job!

  2. April 23, 2020 by Maya Gray

    Awesome job! I don’t even live in San Francisco, but your well thought out presentation makes me feel motivated to help someone. Where I live, we have a grocery store that only sells food from local sources, promoting local farmers and helping them stay in business. Your building, however, is even more environmentally conscious since the food is grown right there. The design is beautiful and I can tell how much effort you put into it. I hope that you can do it or at least get started on it! I know that if there was something like that where I live, I’d definitely want to volunteer. Amazing presentation!

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Hiya Maya! That’s really lovely of you to say, thank you so much. A locally-sourcing supermarket is an ideal step, and shopping there is a good call. There’s a chance that there is something like this where you live! Urban farms are hidden but prevalent. I didn’t know about there being a farm in SF until a couple of months ago. It’s always worth a look :))

  3. April 23, 2020 by Elise

    This is amazing! I love how you said “This project is about a celebration of the local identity, rather than a rebrand” and I think you definitely stuck to that in your design. The challenge of sustainable earthquake-safe materials is a consideration I never thought of (even though I also live in a place where earthquakes are also common) so kudos to you for really digging into practical design considerations!

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Thank you so much Elise! Please, if you have a site, I would be really happy to read it :))

  4. April 24, 2020 by Ahmad Rasheed

    This work is amazing! I admire your great understanding of the local situation regarding farming, food availability, and low-income living situation. I love that your project not only aims to bring profit to those living in unhealthy situations but also promotes solidarity, teamwork, and hard work that will improve the living standards of local residents. Your many sketches and amazing 3D model display a great deal of knowledge, understanding, and hard work. Thanks to you now I know what a vertical farm is. Great Job!

  5. April 24, 2020 by Ahmad Rasheed

    This work is amazing! I admire your great understanding of the local situation regarding farming, food availability, and low-income living situation. I love that your project not only aims to bring profit to those living in unhealthy situations but also promotes solidarity, teamwork, and hard work that will improve the living standards of local residents. Your many sketches and amazing 3D model display a great deal of knowledge, understanding, and hard work. Thanks to you now I know what a vertical farm is. Great Job!

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Thank you Ahmad! I’m really grateful for your comment, and remember you played a role in this with our conversation way back at the beginning of the conference, where you said it was a good idea :))

  6. April 24, 2020 by Mathieu Leclerre

    I really like how you focused a lot on the UN’s SDG’s, I found it very interesting. I believe that this can definitely help improve the communities that this targets, as you would really be bringing them together. I can tell that you care a lot about your community, and it’s really touching to see.

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Hiya Mathieu! I saw your project on cargotecture as well: it was really good. The amount of consideration you put into your design reflects that you care about your community too. Thank you so much for your comments :))

  7. April 25, 2020 by leslie

    Wow! I love your design! Living in the Bay Area, I understand the gentrification problem and I think your idea of turning buildings into vertical farms should be implemented all over the cities! Your design seems so thoroughly thought out and your 3D model is amazing! Keep up the amazing work and I can’t wait to see these kinds of designs in action!

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Thank you Leslie! I hope that it can be put into action as well. The amount of empty buildings in cities is ridiculous, whether it be car parks or warehouses. Your comment is really lovely :))

  8. April 25, 2020 by Caroline

    Hi, Delfine! Like everyone said, your site is absolutely amazing. I love it. I also live near the Bay Area, and I also recognize the horrible impacts gentrification has on not only those who are directly affected by it but to neighboring communities and the economy. Your thoroughness was amazing (geez, you put together 24 pages worth of a design process?) and definitely helped me put all your information into perspective. Thank you for also defining important key terms; it made it a lot easier to follow your page. I hope to see your plan in action one day because your models are absolutely amazing. Let me know how your research is coming together in terms of the points you noted in your “Needs” section (e.g. mycelium usages). Again, awesome work.

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Thank you so much, Caroline! Your comment is really nice. I’m glad you liked it :))

  9. April 26, 2020 by Ashlin Carlisle

    You really put your full effort into this project and it shows. You very clearly outlined all of your goals and addressed them in your design, which you gave multiple platforms to be seen in. The fact that you made a physical model of that caliber is also very impressive and enhances your project even more. Congratulations on not only completing this difficult assignment but also excelling in it. You can just tell how passionate you are about your topic and trying to improve the lives of those in this community.

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Thank you so much Ashlin! I’m glad you liked it :))

  10. April 26, 2020 by Hannah Sun

    [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “Pending Moderation”. Reason: Whoops. Google reCAPTCHA was not submitted. *]
    Hi Delfine, I really liked your design! The connection you made between the shape of your structure and the effect it has on visitors’ minds was super interesting. Your final 3D model helped me visualize everything clearly and I loved how you also included the surrounding environment in the satellite image. Good job!

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Hiya Hannah! I wasn’t able to comment on your project for some reason, so I’m really glad that you left a comment here because I had so much good to say about your project. Your models were all amazing (I particularly liked how you even included the sculptural centrepiece of your design’s courtyard in your SketchUp model) and your systematic layout for the site was really clear. I was incredibly impressed with your work! Well done :))

  11. April 26, 2020 by Hannah Sun

    Hi Delfine! I really liked your connection between the shape of the structure to the mindset of the visitors. Your final 3D Model was super effective and I loved how you included the surrounding environment in the satellite image. Great work!

  12. April 26, 2020 by Siya Anish

    Your project turned out beautiful, with all the sketches you have drawn and the amazing 3d-model you created. With every one of the sketches, there is quite a lot of time and detail that has gone into it, and that is very evident. I love how your 3d-model was able to bring your floor plans to life. This project is amazing, and I love the final result of it.

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Thank you Siya! I can’t understate how much you helped with this project! You played a big role, so thank you so much :))

  13. April 26, 2020 by Charlotte

    Hi Delfine- I love how cross sectional and forward thinking your solution is – it addresses several issues in a really direct way, and being in the Climate Change& Global Inequality course, I can certainly appreciate this solution. I was super impressed by your sketches/ models, and though I know your project focused into one very specific community, I was wondering if you know anything about how we can support urban farming projects in our local communities. Thank you so much! Charlotte

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Hiya Charlotte! I imagine you’re super knowledgeable about climate change and global inequalities, so the fact that you approve means a lot. Thank you so much!
      I think the first step with supporting urban farming projects is actually learning if there are any. A lot of the time, they’re not well known, but by doing research and volunteering to help if you can, you can make a big difference. I found farming quite fun, and if you go with a friend, you can genuinely have an enjoyable time. If there aren’t any, then that’s an initiative to take if you’re passionate enough. Thank you for your lovely comment :))

  14. April 27, 2020 by Austin Jones

    Delfine, it was great to see your project take shape, and the final product is amazing! This really exceeded my expectations, and the 3d model looks professionally done.Every step of the design process is done so well in this project, and the building’s design is very effective to helping it achieve its goal. Great job!

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Hey Austin – Thank you! The model took a while to complete, but it was worth it. Thank you for being there at each step and providing good feedback – you made my project better each time :))

  15. April 27, 2020 by Hailey Dondis

    Hi Delfine, your project is awesome! The model you made is truly amazing! I think that your project’s use of an existing and historic building in a historic area is a big part of what makes your project amazing! The way you are able to work with this existing building while still having space for everything that you want in your design is awesome! Great job Delfine!

    • April 27, 2020 by Delfine

      Thank you so much, Hailey! That’s really lovely of you to say :)) Please, if you have a project, I’d love to read it

  16. April 28, 2020 by Sarah Rose

    Hey Delfine, this project was absolutely wonderful. Your work is amazing to look at and clearly very well organized, thought out, and well planned. It was a pleasure to read through it and look at all your great drawings. The idea you have is super unique and intriguing, a really cool innovation if I do say so myself. Wonderful job.

  17. April 28, 2020 by Ella Peterson

    Hi Delfine! I’ve enjoyed seeing your project progress through the course. Your final design does a great job of achieving all of your original goals. It connects a lot of issues in San Francisco and creates a viable answer. In addition, your model and sketches look very elegant. They combine functionality with aesthetics, but don’t seem obtrusive or gaudy. Great job!

  18. April 28, 2020 by Kaz Miura

    Wow. This is an awesome project. Your 3D model was incredible. Truly solid stuff right there. Your sketches were very clear and I like how you added more and more detail to the street view, showing each level of detail. It really clearly shows each of the parts and layers of your building. The way you took the photos of your 3D model were also very effective in helping the viewer imagine how the structure would look in real life.

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