Dragonfly City Farm

City Food from the City Farm

Tuesday 2 June 2009

1 inspired


Modelled after the wings of a dragonfly, the metabolic farm for urban agriculture aims at reconnecting consumers with producers. For that reason, it is entirely cultivated by its own inhabitants. They shall all engage in the production of fruit, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy products.

Vincent Callebaut’s Dragonfly happens to be located in Roosevelt Island. This is everything but a coincidence, considering the island’s industrial scenery. Such a narrow portion of land stands in the middle of the East River, between Manhattan (West) and the borough of Queens (East). About 3,2 km long, with maximum width of 245 meters and total area of 60 hectares, Roosevelt Island is among the city’s properties; but was leased back in 1969 to the State of New York’s Urban Development Corporation for 99 years. Taking spatial restrictions into consideration, the aforementioned Belgian architect occupies a 350.000 square-meter surface. Amongst its large-scale measurements a 700m antenna, 600m roof and 575m top floor are to be found. In a densely populated city like Manhattan, growth must come vertically. Offices, research laboratories, housing and communal areas are interspersed between orchards, farms and production rooms. All these should be purposely distributed over 132 floors where 28 different types of fields grow.

A double central tower built around one big greenhouse; both would be linked together through two separate wings made from glass and steel. Empty spaces left between the wings are designed to take advantage of the sun by accumulating warm air during winter. Whereas cooling in the summer will be facilitated through natural ventilation as well as leaf evapo-perspiration. The previous combination of wind and solar power make the Dragonfly 100% self-sufficient, not only in water/energy but regarding bio-fertilizers too. Plant and animal farming is arranged in order to reuse biowaste and maintain proper soil nutrient levels. The distribution of input-output flows takes place around the central spine using numerous elevators. Exterior vertical gardens filter rain water which is then mixed with domestic liquid residues. Together they are treated organically before being recirculated for farm use; preserving nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, three root nutrients of the utmost importance.
Vincent Callebaut’s model is certainly not one of kind. We don’t see this as a weakness but as a major strength.

United Nations has repeatedly stated that our Planet will need 60% extra nourishment over the next 30 years so as to meet the demands of an ever-growing population. Meanwhile, agriculturally viable ground becomes scarcer. By 2050, nearly 80% of Earth’s inhabitants will reside in urban centres. An estimated 109 hectares of fertile soil (approximately 20% more than the land currently available in Brazil) will be needed to feed them all if traditional farming techniques continue just as they’re practiced today. Such prediction was made without adding the adverse effects of climate change and global warming. What can we do about the upcoming food crisis? Many think the solution lies in skyscraper farms. That’s why the aforesaid project abundance is seen as a positive sign. Architectural proposals are filled with striking ideas that push minds forward. Society might even reconsider its characteristic disbelief in change. They provide us with powerful incentives towards sustainable growth.

Indoor farming isn’t a newly devised concept. A wide variety of agrarian products (including tomatoes, herbs and spices) have been grown indoors quite successfully. This once revolutionary practice has been going on for many years. What is truly new, however, is the growing need to undertake mass-production. We must accommodate the rapidly accelerating migration from rural areas to urban centres. Skyscraper farms have enormous potential to improve both in multiple ways. They green up the concrete jungles we like to call home, providing carbon-dioxide conversion against pollution. They also allow the eventual repair of ecosystems sacrificed by decades of intense farming.

Direct benefits include greater freedom, better health and additional income for its inhabitants; creating a true sense of community and preserving traditions as well. Closer-knit communities require less investment in infrastructures and transportation. The amount of time devoted to commuting is substantially reduced. Higher quality of life might finally make citizens aware of sustainability’s present relevance.


First of all, we should mention the direct benefit is providing the employment for the people in the area. Dragonfly would be located in a run-down neighborhood; therefore it would also promote the economic reactivation of the zone. Moreover, this urban farm is betting for a new philosophy of alimentation, alternative to the fast food- movements that nowadays are spread all over the world. It is bringing back the traditional concept of food - healthier and less “manipulated”. It has the aim of adapting to a more sustainable environment. Another key issue is the elimination of intermediaries. This pattern of organization is maintained by the free market, and it aspires to escape from its competitive and consumerist universe imposed by the laws of the market. In the end, it avoids blowing up prices (as intermediaries do) without offering any added values to the production chain (just logistics). Therefore, organising the distribution of fresh products in short circuits, that is, linked directly with the consumer, the urban agriculture completes thus the traditional agriculture.

From another perspective, the project is committed to reduce our fuel consumption (specifically, chlorophyllous products), and also promote the consciousness about climate change, trying to decrease their environmental impact and build eco-responsible cities. Within a framework of energetic assessment, it wants to develop the urban agriculture to become food self-sufficient by recycling at the same time its liquid waste by phyto-purification, its solid waste in fertilizers, etc; by composting and by producing other renewable energies. Therefore, it deals with reinventing the traditional energetic pattern between the city and the countryside between western countries, emerging countries and developing countries.

Being ethical means thinking about the society and the environment around us. Urban agriculture provides food without pesticides and chemicals and these have been proven to have a negative effect on the human. The vertical farm would reduce the problems linked with food shortage, mileage and connection between suppliers and users. It plans to produce fruit, vegetables, grains, meat and dairy products. The metabolic farm would be constructed using ecological engineering as well. It also fights against poverty and exclusion by introducing a social link in the pacification of the key needs of the newcomers with the obstacle of their integration in the city. Dragonfly project is also environmentally friendly by decontamination of polluted grounds and undergrounds, and cleansing of the air in CO2. The building would fully utilize the solar and wind power. It would accumulate the heat during the winter and cool the atmosphere during the summer. This would protect cultures from climate changes. The farm collects rain that is reused for farming after organic treatment which then contains all the necessary elements for producing fruit, cereals, and vegetables. The building does not lose anything because everything is recyclable to a continuous auto-feeding. Urban agriculture has been enhanced by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN. This vertical farm responds to the nowadays dilemma of producing ecologically and intensively.


PLACEMENT: The Proposed placement is at the South end of Roosevelt Island Just slightly north of the UN building on the bank of Manhattan Island.
The Current population of Roosevelt Island is 10,000 approx as of 2000 the majority of these people live on the Northern side of the “Queens bridge” in block apartments. The proposed site for the Farm would be in a disused area of the Island. Several much cheaper alternatives have been proposed for the development of this site including: hotels and enhanced public facilities. This means that the farm would have stiff competition since it will be mainly funded by both UN and NY city councils it will have to demonstrate that it is far above and beyond the best use for the land.

The height of the Building will be 700m to the antenna and 600m to the peak of the roof; this means that it facing potentially large opposition due to its size and view inhibition. Although Lower Manhattan is heavily developed, at this height in this “village” may mean it encounters stiff planning permission opposition. Although it is not directly adjacent to any residential areas, so this should aid it in gaining development permission.

COMPETITORS: Such a farm would be a direct endorsement from both the NY city council and the UN. Whilst the building of the farm would serve to demonstrate both parties commitment to developing sustainable food and energy sources; it will be in direct competition to the NY farm project and local producers of food. America’s agricultural policies have long had a bad reputation, for promoting the under development of produce in order to maintain high prices. By endorsing so publicly the creation of such a farm, all the competitors to this potentially highly successful farm would be in uproar. It would in their view be a complete violation of the free markets and trade agreements, which will be covered in the next point.

FREE MARKET OPPOSITION: This is the idea that markets such as Agriculture should be allowed to self regulate to an extent in order to maximise production, and increase the ‘fairness’ and ‘perfect competition’ of the market. Whilst the system in the US is flawed in that many farms are subsidised so that they do not produce to maximum capacity; the creation of a publicly funded farm which would enter the market in direct competition to other farms would upset this equilibrium. This farm by being publicly funded means it receives a prime location and almost unlimited investment. The resulting image would indicate that the ‘free-market’ system would no longer exist, as the government can intervene when and where it sees fit. Markets are generated and run by trust, if the councils of NY and the UN are seen to fund this project the potential repercussions would be a total loss in faith of the food markets. Depending on your view this would be a good thing totally opening the trade as the government would be forced to lift sanctions. However these measures would all need to be considered and dealt with costing time and money. Serving as a potential deterrent for the creation of the project; whilst the farm may seek to justify itself by maintaining its image as an innovative centre and educational resource it’s public construction would be highly controversial.



The Problem

Location: New York City (United States of America)

Sector: organic produce

Official website: http://vincent.callebaut.org/page1-img-dragonfly.html

Nbr. visits: 2029

Nbr. inspires: 1