Pure Genius - All In The Name Of Eco-Friendly

Ok, recycling is as eco-friendly as I get so far, and I'm even too lazy for that sometimes. So I really have to applaud these people who have dedicated their best brains to creating some of the most ingenious inventions I've seen, all for the sake of a more sustainable future.

I recently stumbled upon this site, Inhabitat.com, which is worth looking at not only for the fabulous design but also some damn good ideas.

For instance, I work at an architectural firm and wondered the same thing this guy did: why don't we ever do anything with all those samples of tiles, glass, rubber, etc. that potential suppliers inundate us with daily? I figured decorating my bathroom with all the spare tiles would be pretty clever, but that's not nearly as fun as what these people came up with.

But the strangest and most intriguing to me has to be this:

Chris Jacobs vertical farm

No, that's not just a building. See the green inside? That is one of the designs associated with the vertical farm project, the brainchild of Dr. Dickson Despommier, a Columbia University professor of environmental sciences and microbiology. The idea behind the project is that in 50 years, most of the human population will live in urban centers. Their solution to overcrowding and its environmental consequences: start building farms into skyscrapers!

Some of the purpoted benefits of such a scheme:

-Organically grown food, sans pesticides

-No weather related crop failures

-Year-round crop production

-Animals can be raised in them as well **small ones, such as chicken and fish**

-No tractors, plows or shipping, thus less use of fossil fuels

-And the best benefit: we can't go to the moon or Mars until we try skscraper farming! Woo hoo! No creepy Total Recall moments.

The farm has yet to be built, and I just hope I'm around long enough to see it. In the meantime I guess I can enjoy the staircase drawers.


Staircase by Unicraft Joinery. Photo courtesy of blogger Emily on Inhabitat.

Read more about the two-in-one staircase here .

Vertical farm picture: design by Chris Jacobs.

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Paul Michael's picture

www.unclutterer.com. A great resource for space-saving ideas, which also featured the stair design a while back.

Andrea Karim's picture

It's my understanding that animals raised in close quarters have to be treated with antibiotics to keep them from falling ill (especially if they never get any time out of doors). I wonder how an "organic" tower could prevent such a thing?

Joann Hong's picture

 Hey Andrea

From the articles I've read on the subject, unfortunately not much has been uncovered about exactly how the animals will survive. This is all still theoretical, so it may well be that they will be infected in such conditions. From what I've read so far, from the report on the website, is that fish and poultry can be raised inside, and water and air filters would be installed in building to 'remove foreign pathogens and toxins.'



Joann Hong

Guest's picture
John Smitsone

"and you can raise animals in it."

good lord. for that "look at the cool factory farm high-rise replacement" comment alone you deserve a big thumbs-down.

vegetables grown indoors in buildings. hurray. instead of using sun and natural irrigation--let's do more artificial farming.

hey, maybe GMOs aren't so bad after all, either?

and so on. c'mon, man. this is awful. adjust your perception. see it for what it is--more technology where less technology is needed. artificiality and artificial complexity where more authenticity is needed.

Joann Hong's picture

I don't say you have to agree. And please note I said 'purpoted benefits', which means none of this is yet proven!! It is an idea, that's all. Nothing to be scared of, but rather examined for what it is. I'd suggest just taking a look through their website and reading through the proposals. They would in fact use natural sunlight (the building would be solar and wind powered). The purpose of the building is to be self sustaining.

I don't deny there would be ethical issues involved, but I don't see what's wrong with thinking it's fascinating. 

Joann Hong

Guest's picture
John Smitsone

much of it IS proven--to be bad. that's the point. animals raised in such a building would suffer the same ethical and physical problems as a factory farm--because it's a factory farm.

food can be grown outdoors, enough for all--without a single bit of the technology described. it's PROVEN.

and--NO BUILDING IS SELF SUSTAINING. the materials required to build it require fossil fuels to manufacture. the replacement parts require fossil fuels to produce. and so on.

do you not get it? do you not understand that what we need isn't "more technology", but less of it? treating nature as a "design problem" is one of the greatest fallacies we have.

and please, if you would, tell me--how can a thing have clear ethical problems...yet be "fascinating"?

do you read?

Guest's picture

Oh no! I just finished writing a blog post for tomorrow about that exact same staircase! What are the odds?

On the other hand, it does mean that I picked the right space-saver to write about as a good idea on my creativity and innovation blog! Everyone seems to be slapping their heads and going "Of course! That's a great way to get our shoes out of the way and to utilize a usually-forgotten space in a small house!"

Thanks for the tip about the other idea site. I'm looking forward to checking it out.

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm kicking myself over the fact that my stairs weren't built like that. I'm about to redo one staircase, and I wonder if I should consider this - it's already going to cost a pretty penny as it is.

Thanks, Joann, for addressing the animal aspect. I'm pretty animals can't, and shouldn't, be raised in such quarters, but I don't see a problem growing vegetables that way. As it is, much of what we eat is grown in hot houses anyway.

I mean, for people who live in moderate climates, who can get farm-fresh produce year round, these might not be so enticing, but maybe if you live in, say, Minneapolis? And you can get fresher produce by growing it in towers (rather than, say, shipping it in from Peru?) - sounds like a possibility.

Julie Rains's picture

I don't necessarily think that people will all live in urban centers in 50 years but...there is momentum building toward getting agriculture closer to people. I keep reading about it anyway so I am thinking this is a developing change -- instead of using tons of fossil fuel to move strawberries or broccoli or asparagus or grapes cross country or overseas, farmers are trying to sell the value of locally grown produce. Although North Carolina has lots of strawberry farms (and I can pick them on the farms or have them picked for me), the grocery store carries strawberries from California (the sign says USA but the fine print says CA), which means quite a haul from farm to store to table. So we may start using indoor facilities (I buy hothouse lettuce and tomatoes often) and/or eat seasonally (that is don't expect strawberries year-round) -- it's a trade off perhaps from using fresh air but we will have more fresh air if the food that we eat is produced closer to home.

Joann Hong's picture

 I really don't think it's as threatening as you make it out to be. This is NOT on the same level as GMOs. These people have taken into consideration some of the problems with current farming, such as deforestation and pollution. They do address that the best solution for over-farming is to let the land rest for a while, and leave it to cure itself. This is one of their stated reasons for vertical farming. As for the animal bit, let me get one thing clear - I don't commend factory farming. And, while the farm is indoors, there are supposed to be fields inside to accomodate SMALL livestock. Is this a good idea? I don't know! But that's why I emphasize that this is all theoretical.

As for the ethical issues, with any radical idea such as this there is bound to be uproar and aversion. As I said before since it hasn't been tested, there may be issues that can arise that weren't thought of before, as Andrea mentioned, some animals MAY be infected. But as a whole, I think it's fascinating because it is an idea that incorporates social consciousness with design. They go through this quite well in their two essays. Is it perfect? No. It is a good point you make about the materials that will potentially be involved. But wouldn't the same crticism also be applied to Hollywood celebrities who want to install solar panels in their homes to be more 'eco-friendly'?

As for the proof, I welcome you to send those readings over.

Lynn Truong's picture

the amount of resources (water, fossil fuels, rainforests, land) and damage (pollution, cruelty, infections/bacteria, super bugs resistant to pesticides, world hunger) that current factory farming does to our environment is what we all should be outraged at. if these people think that vertical farming can alleviate and do less damage, then why trash them while they're the ones at least trying to do something better. why is it that the popular answer that no one is opposed to is simply stronger pesticides and more antibiotics, when it has been proven these things are harmful to us? technology CAN be used for good. we really don't have to go back to hunting and gathering, even though that might be the most moral route to go.

Guest's picture
dave p.

the most important aspect to this is only breifly mentioned above. to produce food on the moon/mars/elsewhere we will have to have practical experiance producing food in enclosed, artificial enviroments. These buildings would be a good starting point/proof of concept for that activity.
Its good to see important technology like this being worked on at a civilian (non-NASA) level.

Guest's picture

I'm confused. When is raising animals indoors ever a good thing for the animals?

One of the posters hit the nail on the head: your post lacks much in the way of empathy or understanding of the original prolblem. More technology has not solved a single meaningful problem in agriculture, but has instead created most of the current problems *and* empowered monolithic factory farming.

The technology you're describing serves to make monolithic factory farming even more pervasive, driving down crop diversity, crop resistance, and the worst part--making it nearly impossible for small farms and organic crops to exist (if you don't understand what that means, or why it's true, you should learn more about your subject.)

In other words: the issue isn't just a problem of "how to grow more food more consistently." In fact, that is not a genuine problem at all--it is one propogated by large corporate machines like Monsanto. And Monsanto, by the way, is one of the corporations funding this research.

Standing at arm's length and calling it fascinating is disingenuous, and possibly dishonest. Take a stand. It really *is* sad to see you try to both defend the idea and simultaneously absolve yourself of any committment to what you wrote (you in fact said clearly you hoped it would happen in your lifetime.)

Guest's picture
Maly Oudommahavanh

Dave P. has a good point re: having practice producing food in enclosed, artificial environments and long term thinking.

In regards to Smithsone's post, I find the point that "food can be grown outdoors, enough for all--without a single bit of the technology described. it's PROVEN." to be morally  idealistic but simplistic. The world population is at 6.6 billion and exponentially growing by the minute. Land is at a premium and, guess what, not controlled by the majority of the 6.6 billion people on earth. Eventually we were going to have to innovate when it comes to producing our food by dint of neccessity. The aggregation of land in the hands of the rich and corporations worldwide means that land isn't being parceled out to each and every human being equally to raise his/her own livestock and produce. And land sure isn't being held so that food can be grown on it in a conscienable way for the masses. Gee, who needs that when we can pull up high rises, condos and resorts there instead?? And call me a cynic but how are we going to wrest back power over our food supply, short of a bloody revolution to reclaim the land? Anyway, don't hate on the messenger. If you don't like the idea of high-rise industrial farms, do something to empower small and organic farmers.

 It is a huge step forward, socially, that we all are even discussing the condition of how our livestock is raised and whether or not our veggies are GMO. A hundred years ago, Upton Sinclair wrote "The Jungle" to raise mainstream America's awareness about the immigrant struggle .. . .and instead people got incensed over severed hands and rats in the meatpacking factories. These days, we're still pissed about the severed hands/rats (I'm still sure they're there!) and some of us are angry about the GMOs.

 Btw, this is pretty bourgeois that we're having  this discussion  about how our food is raised when much of the world goes their daily life without a decent amount of food. Isn't fighting about bland carrots and terrorized chicken so much more soothing to our conscience (woo hoo! we get to be on our moral high gorund then!) than really facing the fact that much of the world doesn't even have access to our bland carrots and chicken?


Guest's picture

I once did see something like this that was actually useful. One year, California had a serious drought, and alfalfa for horses was hard to get. So one company sold a hydroponic grass factory. This was a shipping container with a stack of trays and grow lights. Each day you removed and "mowed" one tray, did some maintenance on it, and put it back in the stack to grow new grass. The grow cycle was about three weeks. Not very energy efficient, but needed little water, which was what mattered that year.

You see smaller trays like that full of alfalfa sprouts at Jamba Juice outlets. Same concept, smaller scale.

There are some huge indoor farms in Saudi Arabia, where they have sun, space, energy, and money, but limited water and poor soil.

There's some grumbling in the "eco" community about the "3000 mile salad", and how much energy is used shipping produce around. But in fact, the biggest transportation fuel cost is the SUV trip to the grocery store. If the customer drives further, to the farmer's market, it's even worse. What's actually happening in transportation is that railroads are making a comeback, simply because their energy costs are lower.

Guest's picture
Dave P.

seems to me that these things are a good idea all the way around, what happens in 10 to 30 years when climate change swings in high gear and we really NEED to be able to grow food in unhospitible areas? what about a nuclear catastrophe? Should we ignore the basic fact that if we dont activly pursue things like this wont have them when we need them? vertical farms like this will give humanity a leg-up the next time it shoots itself in the foot. call me doom and gloom, but I'm always suprised when people deride an idea that could very well save our collective butts at some point. All becuase its not the MOST healthy way to grow food? Becuase its not the MOST humane way to raise animals? well it sure nice to have the luxary to worry about whats the most in these situations, but it's likley that wont always be the case, and being prepared for that possibility is never a bad idea.

-Dave P.

Guest's picture

i don't think technology is the problem of agriculture. i think it's over-consumption. consider the over-fishing problem, then consider if we'll need to rely on indoor farming at one point to let certain ecosystems recover, if it's not too late

Guest's picture

I thought of a building with crops like vertical farm project. The staircase storage is a great idea!

Guest's picture

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