US-based interdisciplinary planning and design firm Sasaki is constructing a vertical farm encompassing 100 hectares and designed to feed the 24 million people living in the Chinese City of Shanghai. After its construction, the Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District would be composed of vertical farms, placed in ironic harmony with the city’s skyscrapers.
The new plans for the 20-year-old project incorporate several different farming methods, including hydroponic and aquaponic systems. Hydroponic systems grow plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent instead, whereas aquaponics entail growing plants in water enriched by fish – allows growers to run sustainable seafood operations alongside their farming activities. The urban farm also relies on some separate buildings that will have algae farms, floating greenhouses, vertical walls, and seed libraries.
Over the last two decades, China has lost over 123,000 square kilometers (47,490.57 square miles) of farmland to urbanization. Sasaski did the math and found that building a farm vertically rather than having it consume land space would allow it to not only blend in with the city’s skyline, but would also cost much less given real estate prices in Shanghai. Furthermore, vertical farms are ideal for growing leafy greens, which comprise 56% of produce consumed in the typical diet of the population of Shanghai. Leafy greens thrive in the simplest of circumstances and locations, so they don’t need a lot of extra attention – which is good news to the team behind the vertical farms of Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District.
Vertical farms are a popular solution in urban farming due to their compact nature. Although some argue that vertical farms defy nature, others have come out in their defence. According to a Belgium-based company called Urban Crops, vertical farming yields more crops than traditional farming or greenhouses do and uses less water doing so. Moreover, the system grows plants faster, and makes them plantable all year round, not just in certain seasons.