Norway and New York City-based design studio Framlab ("fram" means "forward" in Norwegian) have come up with an intriguing solution for urban farming that combines modular design with soilless, aeroponic growth systems.
The conceptual project—titled Glasir ("gleaming")—is designed with Brooklyn in mind, a borough where the foodie destinations along the gentrified waterfront neighborhoods stand in stark contrast to some of the biggest food deserts in the city in low-income neighborhoods like East New York, East Flatbush, Canarsie, and Flatlands.
To create a community-based, easy-to-scale urban farming system, Framlab proposes a tree-like form composed of modular glass cubes that would start small and expand as demand and need rises. The system is based on a subscription service model that would allow a periodic distribution of crops to households, businesses, and schools. Drones would move greenhouse modules from the service subscribers to the tree forms, where they would be added on or reconfigured within the growing structure as needed.
As the designers explain on their website, an AI would serve as "the brain of the system," optimizing the growth and distribution of the modules. "The artificial intelligence, in conjunction with a series of environmental sensors, enables the tree to evaluate environmental conditions (such as solar gain, temperature levels, prevailing winds, the presence of adjacent structures) and adapt to ensure optimized growth conditions."
The modules are framed with cross-laminated timber and topped with solar panels. The system would store rainwater, purify it, and convert it into the mist that feeds the crops. According to the designers, each module can produce 480 pounds of vegetables a year, which could add up to 48,000 pounds for the average tree structure.
"While the city's streetscape serves as the habitat for Glasir, each tree structure also aspires to function as a microhabitat of its own...as each tree structure serves a local neighborhood, the composition, type, and seasonal variation of the vegetables grown, reflects the unique composition and characteristics of its community," the designers write.
The base of each "tree" would incorporate seating to create a natural gathering space while embedded cavities and terraces within the interior of the structure allow people to climb up, explore, and harvest the fruits and vegetables.