Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hydroponics On The Windows: Cool, Efficient Vertical Farming

Alyssa Danigelis, Many of us still jump to conclusions when we hear "hydroponics" and New York Sun Works wants to change that. The organization is known internationally for its Science Barge on the Hudson River, which showcases sustainable agricultural practices for the public. But the barge is actually part of a larger plan to integrate hydroponics into building planning and design. During a summer when droughts are hitting Americans across the country and municipalities are limiting water use, hydroponics is an idea whose time has come.
Architects and planners, take note. Several months ago, New York Sun Works got together with architecture firm Kiss + Cathcart and reimagined the greenhouse. They came up with a plan (see image) to mount rows of fruit and vegetable plants in a vertically integrated system covering a building exterior. The plant boxes would be sandwiched between two layers of glass--called a "double-skin facade"--and could rotate slowly up and down the space over the course of a day. The plants would be fed hydroponically, a system that New York Sun Works public affairs director Benjamin Linsley says is between five and 10 times more water-efficient than soil-based farming. Producing more food in the city means avoiding the high cost of trucking it here.
Not only does the system look nifty, but the plants would act as a unique insulation barrier, absorbing light and heat to keep the building cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Linsley says international engineering firm Arup was able to show that the system would indeed improve a building's energy efficiency. Currently the team is constructing a small stand-alone prototype that I hope catches a developer's eye. Eating strawberries grown on-premises at the end of a long work day? Sign me up!

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