My previous article “Going Green…Vertically” might have raised some arguments about greening your high-rise buildings. Trees are supposed to be more than nice-looking objects to rest our eyes on. But, what is wrong if you still want to grow some vegetables on your condo balcony? The answer is no. For a ‘Going Green’ campaign to be successful, it needs to sustain three basic requirements, which are environment, social, and economics. In terms of environment, having more and more trees is definitely a plus as it helps to filter the outside air, reduce urban heat island effects, provide sound insulation, shade your balcony from strong afternoon direct sunlight, and so on; not yet to mention about enhancing visual quality of the skyline. For social and economics, putting more green space vertically, will surely lead to series of discussions.
Early this year, I invited a green architect from Sydney, Australia to give a lecture at the Association of Siamese Architects (ASA). His name is Tone Wheeler from Environa Studio. Of course, Sydney is located in a warm and arid area, which is totally different from Bangkok in terms of climate. Green buildings in Australia then need to focus on stormwater collections. Tone showed us a picture of his design of an apartment where he installed large concrete gutters to collect stormwater and store it in the tanks right beneath each balcony. The stormwater is then used to feed the vegetables that the apartment’s owners grow for food on their balconies. There is no electric water pump needed for the irrigation since the water is downfed by gravity. This sounds like ‘self-sufficiency economy’ to me. However, instead of talking about economy or money saving from self-cultivation, Tone chose to mention about it in terms of environment. He said that 25% of CO2 emission from the transportation sector is due to the delivery of food from its origin to store in our refrigerators. Therefore, if we can provide cultivation area that is closed to our living complex, we could cut down energy used for the transportation of foods and refrigeration. Reduced land use can prevent further deforestation, desertification, and other consequences of agricultural encroachment on the nature. Of course, most importantly, we will have really fresh foods ready on our dining tables every day. The buildings we live in will be fully self-contained, self-sustained, and self-sufficient.
Actually, Tone’s idea of the so-called ‘Urban Farming’ is not really new. Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences and microbiology at Columbia University, U.S.A. used to mention about ‘Vertical Farm’ or ‘Sky Farm’. He suggested that the world will need more farming area in order to produce enough food for its population by the year 2050. To achieve this, vertical space in urban area could be used for growing vegetables. Natural energy such as wind and solar can be used to supply enough power to run this skyfarm. In addition, water collecting units and a black-water treatment system as well as an optional biofuel generating power plant can be integrated into this building.
The idea of ‘Urban Farming’ has led me to look at ‘vertical green’ in a different point of views. I later came across an experimental design competitions held by the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA) in Arizona, U.S.A., in an attempt to gather innovative ideas on revitalization of strip malls. The winner is MOS Architects from Connecticut. The concept called “Urban Battery” as shown in the pictures. It is actually ‘vertical algae farm’ integrated with wind turbines and solar cell panels. For those who don’t know much about renewable energy, algae can be grown in order to produce biodiesel. A 300’ by 300’ lightweight structure supports a series of thin plastic bags housing algae; of course, the green one, to make it look really green. The reason that they put it vertically instead of horizontally in a swamp is because; when algae grow, light only penetrates by one inch through water. By going vertical, they can increase the surface area and the volume that gets exposed to sunlight.
It seems all these people who created such innovative ideas about vertical green are trying to achieve all requirements of sustainability. Sometimes we need to talk louder about environmental crises and the ways to solve them right before business people start to calculate the return on investment. Today, the society listens to bad news about environmental problems and climate change more carefully than it did decades ago. The examples of vertical green shown here might not be really profitable at the first place; however, the ‘Wow factor’ incorporated into the ideas and applications will spur major development of vertical green in the near future.
ผู้ช่วยศาสตราจารย์ ดร. อรรจน์ เศรษฐบุตร
Asst. Professor Atch Sreshthaputra, Ph.D.
Faculty of Architecture, Chulalongkorn University
Chairman of Green Building Program. The Association of Siamese Architects.