Carlo Ratti Associati imagines Jian Mu Tower as a hydroponic farmscraper in Shenzhen

Taking urban farming to new heights, the 218m-high structure in Shenzhen, China, will be the first skyscraper with a vertical hydroponic farming system covering its entire façade.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Aug 30, 2021

Once built, Carlo Ratti Associati's concept for the Jian Mu Tower may serve as a foundational model for a new archetype within the realm of contemporary architecture - that of the farmscraper. Developed for a design competition organised by Wumart - a Chinese supermarket chain and one of the country's biggest retailers, the design follows a trail of similar integrations of vertical farming and architecture put forth by Studio Precht's Farmhouse concept and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners' Skyfarm, to list a few. At 218m and 51 storeys, with 10,000 sqm of its façade dedicated to the cultivation of crops, the towering structure is likely to stand apart amid a sea of soaring skyscrapers in Shenzhen, China. Expected to occupy the last available plot on the central axis of the city's Central Business District, the vertical hydroponic farm tower might serve as a fresh addition to a city that ranks second in the world in terms of the sheer number of skyscrapers scattered across its skyline.

10,000 sqm of the tower's façade is dedicated to vertical farming | Jian Mu Tower by Carlo RattiAssociati | STIRworld
10,000 sqm of the tower's façade is dedicated to vertical farming Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

Carlo Ratti Associati's design for the Jian Mu Tower will make use of hydroponic farming - a method that employs mineral nutrient aqueous solutions instead of soil as a growing medium for plants. Through this system, the high-rise structure will be equipped to produce approximately 270,000 kg of food in a year - enough to feed nearly 40,000 people, as per the architects. While collaborating on the project with ZERO - an Italy-based company that specialises in vertical farming solutions, the Italian firm, headed by architect Carlo Ratti, devised a design scheme capable of producing everything from fruits to salad greens and aromatic herbs. In addition, the building will also host offices, a supermarket, and a food court, as it intends to establish a self-sustaining food supply chain with retail infrastructure to allow residents to cultivate, harvest, sell, and consume the produce grown on its façade.

The design intends to create a self-sustaining food supply chain, allowing residents to cultivate, harvest, sell, and consume the produce grown on its façade| Jian Mu Tower by Carlo RattiAssociati | STIRworld
The design intends to create a self-sustaining food supply chain, allowing residents to cultivate, harvest, sell, and consume the produce grown on its façade Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

“Small-scale urban farming is happening in cities all over the world – from Paris to New York to Singapore. Jian Mu Tower, however, takes it to the next level," says Ratti in an official release. He continues, “Such an approach has the potential to play a major role in the design of future cities, as it engages one of today’s most pressing architectural challenges: integrating the natural world into building design. In addition to producing food, the Jian Mu Tower’s farm also helps with solar shading – a key issue in tall buildings.”

The building’s form as well as its name have precedents in theJian Mu tree featured in Chinese folklore - said to be the link between heaven and earth. As the earth and heaven are said to possess square and round shapes respectively (according to traditional beliefs), the project’s structural profile echoes this notion, morphing from a cuboidal base to a tubular shaft as it rises. Furthermore, the vertical hydroponic farming system which covers the entirety of the building’s façade design, also limits the need to use air-conditioning, a result of the effective management of excess solar radiation by the vegetation grown by it.

Office spaces, landscaped terraces, double-height gardens, a food court, and a supermarket are all included in the design scheme| Jian Mu Tower by Carlo RattiAssociati | STIRworld
Office spaces, landscaped terraces, double-height gardens, a food court, and a supermarket are all included in the design scheme Image: Courtesy of Carlo Ratti Associati

Besides this, across the building’s 90,000 sqm of usable area, natural and artificial elements work in conjunction to create a highly-efficient and sustainable high-rise building solution that promotes biodiversity and makes full use of Shenzhen’s abundant rainfall. This concept is illustrated in the firm’s use of landscaped terraces that employ a sustainable irrigation system to cultivate diverse flora such as lilies, ferns, and even lychee trees. Inside the tower, seamlessly integrated double-height gardens will allow office workers to immerse themselves in nature while relaxing or engaging in social interactions. The building’s inhabitants will also be able to regulate interior microclimates within their offices by using a mobile app. To manage daily functions within the farming system, the building will make use of an AI-powered 'virtual agronomist' to handle tasks such as managing irrigation and nutritional conditions, among other scenarios.

The question of whether the Jian Mu Tower will revolutionise the future of high-rise vertical urban farming will only be revealed over time. However, its mix of cutting-edge technological solutions with innovative design and agricultural concepts provides it with a fair degree of promise to potentially become the first such vertical farm tower to actually see the light of day.

Project Details

Name:Jian Mu Tower
Location: Shenzhen, China
Area: 90,000 sqm
Height: 218m (51 storeys)
Architect: Carlo RattiAssociati(CRA)
Creative Lead:Italo Rota
CRA Team: Carlo Ratti, Antonio Atripaldi (partner in charge), Chiara Borghi, Mario Daudo, Rui Guan, ChenyuXu
Renderings by CRA Graphic Team: Gary di Silvio, Pasquale Milieri, GianlucaZimbardi
Structures, MEP and Façade: Arup
Local Architect: Lapis Bureau
Hydroponic Farming System: ZERO
Landscape Design: Gross Max
Media Façade and Contents:iart, Studio for Media Architectures
Design Consultant: South China University of Technology, Politecnico di Torino

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