VELUX Helps Light the Way to Urban Farming

VELUX Helps Light the Way to Urban Farming

In the Architecture studio Skin Deep, Light as Air, students were asked to transform an abandoned 19th-century mill building in a low-income Providence neighborhood into a mixed-use facility that can support urban agriculture. The Danish company VELUX, a global manufacturer of skylights and roof windows, sponsored the studio to “challenge architects-in-training to think about the role natural lighting—especially from skylights—plays in their designs.”

The studio name comes from an analogy drawn by Anastasia Congdon, the Architecture critic who taught the studio, between human skin, which transforms sunlight into vitamin D, and the skin of a building, which can “harness light and nourish life within, resulting in a new building typology: the vertical farm.” Vertical farming is a form of urban agriculture that offers up to seven times the production capacity and longer growing seasons than traditional farming.

Students explored how to “subtract from the building,” Congdon explained, “literally tearing out material so more light can get in.” Not since Victory Gardens supplied 40 percent of fresh produce in World War II-era United States has the idea of growing food close to home gained such momentum—an idea that attracted Architecture senior Tiffany McGlone. “When I started architecture school six years ago, sustainability was a separate class that you didn’t care too much about,” she says. “But now it’s a dire need, something you need to incorporate into every thought, every detail about a building.”

Congdon also urged students to consider “how grassroots organizations can become financially viable, sustain themselves and propagate healthy habits within their local communities.” Adding this component to the design brief “forced students to think more deeply and more clearly about the problems they’re confronting,” noted visiting critic Brian Goldberg MArch ’00. “They were destabilized by the complexity of the problem, which has a valid pedagogical function in terms of problem solving and critical thinking.”

Will Harrison MArch ’10 agrees. At 30-something, he says that vertical farming is a natural extension of his lifelong love of fresh food. “Unlike the localvore movement, which is pretty class-linked at this point, we’re trying to jump that fence,” he explains, adding that he “came to architecture school with the premise that design is a good route to improve the world for everybody—to finesse the interface between human culture and the world we live in.”

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