Problems with vertical farm designs

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It’s no wonder vertical farmers get so much flack when faulty architectural designs are at the heart of the public’s perception of vertical farms. When architects aren’t farmers, some serious design flaws slip into their vertical farm concepts. Any serious reader of this blog could write this piece about most of the concept farms that seem to come out every week, but let’s tackle a few of the obvious flaws with this one.

when architects aren't farmers: problems with vertical farm design

The sad truth is that this concept rendering, though more feasible than most, is just not realistic. As Dr. Dickson Despommier explains “Chances are none of the fanciful, futuristic “Jetsons” vertical farms that you’ll find on Google Images [will] be built, as they’re not considering the reality of farming on a commercial scale.” Then he hits the nail on the head: “Many of these designs are proposed by architects and designers, not the farmers themselves.”

While there are more, let’s look at the three biggest problems with this farm design by French company Ilimelgo. I will say that in general, it’s a very interesting design with some cool elements like the extending and mobile platforms that allow workers to cruise through a center aisle built to maximize light exposure. The central shaft itself is a good concept, and would expand the farm’s utility beyond facade farming for building integrated agriculture projects.

Look Out Below!

Does no one else see a problem with tomatoes (not sure what Sketch Up is trying to show here) hanging over fourth story railings? A resounding splat from a penthouse tomato signals the harvest’s ripeness and an unending maintenance/liability challenge.  Those free spirits poised to plummet also look like they’d be challenging to harvest even if they didn’t drop.

ilimelgo architects vertical farm grand paris designboom

While best practices are far from settled in this industry, it’s guaranteed that hanging fruits and vegetables over a railing where people walk and work below  will be a no-go. There would be less of a problem with lettuces than tomatoes or peppers, so maybe we can forgive Ilimelgo this one, but it this flaw just signals more to come.

Hand Watering

This is what looks like a 7-story greenhouse at its highest point. It doesn’t makes a lot of sense to go around with a watering can like the line-drawn sap below. There are no visible concessions to irrigation (not even a simple drip-system for top watering), or an area to store, treat, and optimize water quality. Even for a company focusing on architectural design, there still needs to be consideration of one of the most critical elements of farming!

ilimelgo architects vertical farm grand paris designboom

Insulation Costs

Greenhouses are expensive enough to heat without making them huge. So without getting into things like r values or photovoltaics, there is just one simple question: where is your HVAC system?


The purpose of this piece wasn’t to rip on Ilimelgo in particular. In fact, this is one of the most intriguing and realistic designs that has come out recently. The point is that despite the promise of designs like this, there is a certain practical attention to detail that architects miss by excluding farmers.

There is also no reason to disparage futuristic designs even when they don’t have all the kinks worked out. As Despommier says, “They do serve a great purpose, though, as to inspire individuals to become part of the movement and the future of agriculture.” Plus, they look really, really cool.

Because of this, they have almost become the ambassadors of vertical farming. So, shouldn’t we be pushing them to higher standards when we can?

To learn more about the farm, check out this article.

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9 thoughts on “Problems with vertical farm designs

  1. Pingback: Problems with vertical farm designs – The Urban Vertical Project – WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

  2. Hi there,
    Despite what you may think, the architects for this project didn’t work all by themselves.
    It is said here : (sorry it’s in french because it’s a french project) that they work with : and
    What you said in your post here indeed make some sense but maybe those drawings are just the first ones to win the competition against other architects for exemple. I don’t know anything about this project. I just read the article some months ago.
    The article says also that the building is suppose to be finished in 2017. so there’ll be plenty of time to adjust everything 🙂

    • Great to have new information. I don’t think it contradicts any of the points in the article however, but likewise I hope that they are able to adjust everything for the better.

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  4. Pingback: Famous New York Landmark Re-Imagined As Lofted Greenhouse – The Urban Vertical Project

  5. As an architecture student, these kind of designs make me really sad. I’ve been studying plants and taking care of some in my house for years so I can understand their needs better. My final graduation project is going to be about a vertical farm in an abandoned building in Sao Paulo, where I live, and if some of you volunteers to help me so I don’t make that kind of mistake I would be very pleased 🙂

    • Sure, when you get a rough draft, send it to me on twitter @proverticalfarm and I will let you know if anything is awry. Good luck!

  6. Pingback: Building-Integrated Forests in China | The Urban Vertical Farming Project

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