Vertical Farming Takes Off in Vacant Office Space
Empty office space causes an expensive headache for commercial property landlords, as well as creating an unsightly blot on the landscape. Who wants to see high streets full of whitewashed windows, or dark empty spaces adorning soaring office towers?
The recession and its ensuing economic instability left gaping holes in the commercial property industry. But with every cloud there is a silver lining, and the same is true – believe it or not – of empty office space.
For instance, just last month we reported on a number of ‘pop-up’ art galleries that were springing up in empty offices throughout Leeds, Newcastle and North London. The open-plan space provided the perfect environment for creative types to showcase their work, from paintings and sketches to sculptures and photography, which brightened up the space and brought a much-needed buzz into the disused space.
Now another silver lining is coming to light.
Backed by the notion that ‘if you can’t spread out, spread up’, a disused office tower in Wythenshawe, near Manchester Airport, is set to be transformed into a vegetable-grower’s paradise.
As part of a new two-year project to build a vertical farm within the walls of a disused five-storey office block, the idea is designed to plant the seed of sustainability into the minds of local people, encouraging cities to grow food in a more environmentally friendly way. Currently, supermarket vegetables often travel thousands of miles to reach their ultimate destination; relying heavily on unsustainable and CO2-laden fossil fuelled transportation.
By taking advantage of empty office blocks the scheme will make good use of the unused space, helping landlords to overcome the cost of empty offices, and will encourage wholesalers to buy locally rather than shipping goods in from overseas. It will also overcome the issue of limited arable land in the area.
The idea has already been presented to the people of Manchester following an 18-day international festival which took place throughout the city.
According to Dickson Despommier, a New York based parasitologist who spoke at the festival, ‘vertical farming’ is a relatively new idea but can pose logical solutions to common problems. The notion of vertical farming was first explored by Despommier and his team in 1999, where farms were built indoors. The group found that the crops required as much as 70% less water and less fertilizer than traditional farming, as they were housed in sheltered conditions and protected for the most part from disease and insects.
Debbie Ellen, the lead researcher on the project, believes that these ‘garden cities’ could play a key role in future farming techniques.
“By the year 2050 it is estimated that nearly 80% of the world’s population will live in urban centres,” she said, according to The Guardian. “Our current food system is very vulnerable to weather events as well as being unsustainable in terms of how food reaches us. Vertical farms, which use existing buildings, offer the potential to become productive food hubs which will increase a community’s resilience by growing food locally.”
Along with the benefits of saving space, utilising empty offices and reducing the distance that food travels, Debbie also believes that the scheme will educate local people and raise awareness of food nutrition.
“Encouraging local people to engage with the project is very important, because by learning about food growing, people become much more aware of its value, the difference in taste of food that has only travelled a small distance and the possibilities that exist for them to grow food for their families.”
The team, which includes urban retrofit organisation URBED, have already secured a five-storey office property in Wythenshawe, one of the original vertical farms, which will eventually become known as ‘Alpha Farm’.
What do you think of vertical farming in disused office blocks? Do you have any other ideas for transforming empty office space? Get in touch using the comment box below.