Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 1, 2008
Sky Farm could feed 40,000 folks a year
Innovative architectural student offers a solution to population disaster
By SUZANNE ELSTON
It's called the Malthusian Catastrophe. Named after Thomas Malthus, the English economist and demographer, it predicts the ultimate failure of the Earth's ecosystem to support our ever-increasing population.
To quote Malthus: "The power of the population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race."
More than 200 years after Malthus made his prediction in 1789, there is growing concern that we may soon surpass the planet's ability to sustain us. An estimated 80 per cent of the world's potentially arable land is already being used to provide food for the Earth's estimated 6.7 billion people.
If current trends continue, the United Nations predicts that the population will exceed nine billion by 2050. Using existing agricultural practices, we would need an additional one billion acres of land to feed everyone.
That's land we simply don't have. Add to this the rising cost of oil, which dramatically affects both the cost of shipping food and many of the fertilizers used to produce it, as well as the growing demand for feed stocks such as corn to produce ethanol, and the impact of climate change on agricultural production, and it would appear that we are only a few bushels away from a global famine.
That is unless you talk to Gordon Graff. Graff, a graduate student at the University of Waterloo, spends much of his time pondering sustainability.
"Within the academic environment, the idea of sustainability is rather vague," said Graff. "Even though our ecological awareness had exploded exponentially in the last two years, I wanted to find out what that meant within the context of my studies."
A student of architecture, Graff found direction and inspiration in the work of American architect, Edward Mazria. Graff realized that through his own work he had an extraordinary opportunity to make the world a better place.
"Architects are closer to the fashion industry than they are to creating sustainable cities. It's more about fashion than things that matter," he said. He set out to prove the concept of sustainable architecture is not an oxymoron.
"I couldn't get ecological sustainability out of my head. When I started my graduate program I wanted to tackle urban sustainability. The question is, how do we make an existing city like Toronto sustainable?"
Graff answer's is nothing short of transformational. Using his passion for sustainability, his grasp of the pending Malthusian Catastrophe and his knowledge of architecture, Graff has created two brilliant designs that shatter the urban design paradigm and redefine the idea of local agriculture.
Visionary sky farm
The first is a visionary 59-storey building that Graff calls a sky farm. Using the principles of hydroponic gardening to maximize food production, Graff's design translates 3.8 million square feet of floor space into 11 million square feet of growing area all on a mere 1.32 hectares.
By his own estimate, the sky farm could produce 54 million pounds of fruits and vegetables, nearly a million pounds of animal meat and nearly a half a million pounds of eggs - enough food to feed 40,000 people year round. A ground level grocery store could sell the produce, making the entire food cycle carbon neutral.
The building's heating and lighting are provided by a wall of photovoltaic cells and a living machine - an anaerobic digester that uses organic wastes from the gardens and an exterior grow wall (depending on the climate) to produce power and filter waste water.
By also capturing waste methane from the city's sewer system, Graff estimates his sky farm could easily provide electricity back to the grid.
Graff's second design, grow housing, incorporates a smaller version of the sky farm into a low-rise city block development that includes condominium and townhouse units, a grocery market, and street level retail and commercial space. The complex is topped off with a green rooftop designed to function as a community garden for low-income earners.
Graff hopes his designs will help us to avoid "the tragedy of the commons," that age-old conflict over finite resources between individual interests and the common good - a pretty amazing goal for this modest 29-year-old grad student from Perth, Ont.
Once Graff completes his thesis his hope is that he might be able to publish his work, get his architectural licence and start practicing sustainable architecture as soon as he can.
Graff doesn't yet have his own website. However, he presented his visionary work at a Sustainable Buildings Canada (SBC) breakfast in July. For more on SBC, including the upcoming Green Building Festival, Sept. 9-10, visit www.sbcanada.org.
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