agro-housing and cars that fold

(via ASLA's The Dirt blog)

The building above is the proposed concept design for Agro-Housing, Knafo Klimor's winning entry in the the 2nd International Architecture Competition for Sustainable Housing. (Here's the write-up, more illustrations, a pdf presentation and a video tour.)

Basically it's a 12-story residential building with apartment units wrapping around a vertical greenhouse core. Vertical farming is not a new concept but previous proposals were basically industrial farms in skyscraper forms. There are though, very good reasons for moving agricultural production into vertical formats.

This is the first proposal that mixes housing with agriculture. (How's that for mixed-use?)

From the website:

Advantages of this innovative building typology:
  • Produces food for tenants and the surrounding community.
  • Produces organic and healthy food that is disease and fertilizer free
  • Creates an abundance of crops for self-consumption and sale for the neighbors.
  • Requires no special skill set for greenhouse operation
  • Allows for flexibility and independence for the greenhouse working hours.
  • Creates extra income and new jobs for the inhabitants in the building.
  • Creates a sense of community and softens the crisis of migration to cities.
  • Preserves rural traditions and social order.
  • Creates sustainable housing conditions and reduces air and soil pollution.
  • Improves the building’s microclimate and reduction of its energy usage (cooling and heating)
  • Uses water from the existing high water table and recycles grey water for gardening.
The proposal intrigues me and I wonder if this can help finance vertical low-cost or affordable housing in Metro Manila? Can the greenhouse produce commercial quantities of organic produce, enough at least to provide shared income for the apartment residents (perhaps as a cooperative)? If this was replicated on a large scale (like EcoBlocks), would it be viable enough to interest an investment from agro-industry?

Meanwhile, those crazy kids from MIT have proposed a carbon-free, stackable rental car.

"The Smart Cities group at the MIT Media Lab is working on two low-cost electric vehicles that it hopes will revolutionize mass transit and help alleviate pollution. Next week, the group will unveil a prototype of its foldable electric scooter at the EICMA Motorcycle Show, in Milan. A prototype for the team's foldable electric car, called the City Car, is slated to follow next year.

The MIT group sees the vehicles as the linchpin in a strategy that aims to mitigate pollution with electric power, expand limited public space by folding and stacking vehicles like shopping carts, and alleviate congestion by letting people rent and return the vehicles to racks located near transportation hubs, such as train stations, airports, and bus depots.

"We're looking at urban personal mobility in a much more sustainable way than the private automobile provides," says William Mitchell, director of the Smart Cities research group.

This will be fantastic paired with Zipcar's model of shared-car ownership (read: car membership plans). I've been a Zipcar member for the last 4 years and I find it indispensable. I get to use cars without having to worry about parking or maintenance. All for a reasonable hourly rental rate that covers gas and insurance.

I've wondered if a model like this could work in Makati and Ortigas. The big worry of course is carnapping, but the technology actually tracks the vehicles which could be a bit of a deterrent. You can also price in the cost of theft insurance into the business model. It could work. Plus, if MIT's cars finally get to market, then you have the added insurance of easy to spot cars not available in the retail market. (e.g.- no place to sell the car -unless, of course, you break it up).


dave (",) said...

ah, my visions of a provincial home with a garden can also be applicable in the urban setting. could GK implement this concept? i guess sooner or later they'll run out of wide open land areas, especially for the urban poor who'd want to stay in the city.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

hi dave,

not sure if GK can do something on this scale as it obviously requires more capital. this is the kind of project that could work with government incentives and innovative developers.

it would be great too if the design can be adapted to poultry farming but we'll have to design a system that deals with the stink of manure -or maybe a system that can use the manure for biogas!

thing is, we DON'T want to run out of wide open spaces - so we need to build up if we want to accommodate growth without sprawling all over the place.

Peter said...

Reminds me of that rush to put hydroponics in roof tops a few years back. Dami na lugi because in the end you still needed to know how to farm hehe!

I think I remember reading about a similar project in Beijing in Progressive Architecture a few months or was it couple years back.

Anyway sounds very nice, who does not want to wake up and look out over their field este plot (more likely paso!) of green veggies in the morning. But until they somehow make the economics by balancing the 6k to 7k/sq.m. of structural costs alone (no land accomodated cost nor MEP) and getting enough output from those extra sq.m. in veggies (or as you pointed out chicken + poop) then that Php 100/sq.m. plot of farm land in laguna looks very tempting to plant on and this will ultimately burden not compliment housing economics.

Urbano dela Cruz said...


Greenfields will always be cheaper to farm on and build on. Until we can internalize the externalized environmental costs (time, transport, air pollution, fertilizer runoffs, land consumption, etc.), the playing field will always be tilted towards greenfield development.

Strategic incentives that would lower the land costs (if, for instance these were built on brownfields - closed landfills or the hopefully-soon-to-be-closed petro refinery sites in Manila) could help to make this feasible.

As you say, the key is really thinking about the dynamics of housing economics in the long run. Like say, a hundred years hence (wink, wink).


Peter said...

Actually we looked at this for some of our housing models and made rooftop provisions for it but guess what when we did the focus groups for this market segment their preference was clear: sampayan and basketball court!!! hehe Maybe kung napapagkitaan nila they will be a bit more enthusiastic about a a roof top garden (as long as may magbabantay because that was their topmost and very practical consideration - that agri produce napakadaling nakawin)!

Urbano dela Cruz said...

yeah, focus groups are overrated. you're basically tied down to the participant's previous experience. I don't know of any design innovation or paradigm shift in technology (or method) that ever came out of a focus group.

Knafo Klimor's design requires some social engineering - i.e. -forming the tenants into cooperatives that will run the greenhouse. -which is probably way more work than any developer would be willing to do.

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