Farm in the city could be supermarket of the future

Story highlights

  • Concept designed to produce all food of a modern supermarket on one plot of land
  • Dutch architects say they will use mix of technologies to create artificial growing climates
  • Scheme designed to reduce food production and transportation emissions
  • Crop scientist has doubts about creating artificial microclimates
Big cities are rarely home to thriving farmlands, but a group of Dutch architects hope to change that with the "Park Supermarket" -- an urban farming project that will attempt to grow and sell all the food of a modern supermarket in one place.
The firm behind the proposal, Rotterdam-based Van Bergen Kolpa Architects, intends to produce everything from risotto rice, to kiwis to Tilapia fish all on one 4,000-acre plot of disused land in Randstad, Holland's largest metropolitan area.
In defiance of the country's moderate climate, the architects say they have devised a system to control the park's outdoor environment, using old and new farming technologies to simulate Mediterranean and tropical climates in an ecologically sustainable way.
The land, which had been earmarked for a large block of business developments before the global recession, cuts across the city fringes of Rotterdam and The Hague, serving a potential customer-base of over one million people, according to Van Bergen Kolpa Architects.
"The cities surrounding the proposed site are home to 170 different eating cultures -- from Moroccan to Indonesian, from Turkish to Chinese -- and we're aiming to grow food to satisfy all their tastes," said Jago van Bergen, an award-winning architect and one of the brains behind the "Park Supermarket" -- which has been shortlisted for the upcoming World Architecture Awards in November.
"The plan is to divide the park into three climate zones -- moderate, Mediterranean and tropical. Because this will also be a recreational space, our goal is to make it as open as possible, without using greenhouses," he said.
But how exactly do you create a warm outdoor microclimate on the urban fringes of a north European city? According to van Bergen, it's not as far-fetched or futuristic as it sounds.
"The main differences between a Mediterranean and moderate climate are longer periods of light and warmth in the evening, " he explained. "To make up this difference we'll use a combination of traditional and modern farming methods that all work by trapping and storing heat and releasing it when temperatures drop,"
So, in an effort to grow typically Mediterranean foods like olives and peppers, for instance, van Bergen says he'll need little more than rows of "snake walls" and "climate pylons."
According to van Bergen, "snake walls", made from clay, curve over crops helping to shield them from cold winds, while simultaneously emitting heat absorbed during the day.
Annotated illustration, climate-control methods
"They used this method in the 18th century gardens of eastern Germany's Potsdam, so the king could grow grapes to make wine that tasted as good as the French stuff," he said.
"Climate pylons" are a more modern method of trapping heat. Van Bergen says they simply rain down a fine mist of water from high up, creating clouds that act like vapor roofs, stopping warm air from disappearing into the sky.
View of existing site in Randstad
However, for tropical foods like mangoes and basmati rice, van Bergen says the park will need another layer of warmth.
"In this case, we'll pump geothermal energy -- heat stored deep in the lower soils -- up to the top using underground pipes filled with water," he explained.
"This technology is used in football stadiums to stop the pitches freezing over and more recently it's being used to heat homes."
Van Bergen concedes that the pumps and electric-powered lights that artificially extend daylight hours will requi