Students look upward in global sustainable-design contest in Singapore

There’s an area next to Hanoi’s outermost ring road that epitomizes many of the challenges facing the developing world, including competing needs for housing, sustainable food, water, energy, jobs, transportation and infrastructure. Two teams of graduate students at the University of California, Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design think they have solutions to these problems, and they’ve traveled to Singapore to share their ideas.

Their concepts will be on display during a symposium through Thursday (July 11) as part of the five-year, Vertical Cities Asia International Design Competition in Singapore. The contest and related symposium are sponsored by the National University of Singapore’s School of Design and Environment, and include teams from nine other universities selected from around the world. The goal of the competition is to find answers to the problems associated with Asia’s breakneck urbanization.

In "Edge City," crops are cultivated in buildings, not just fields. (Image courtesy of UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design.

In this “Farmways” sketch by UC Berkeley students, a community on the edge of Hanoi, incorporates food production into constructed spaces. Visible are farmers on upper-frame catwalks. (Images courtesy of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design)

This year’s competition, “Everyone Harvests,” zeroes in on the urban-agricultural tensions specifically facing Hanoi, a city of 6.5 million people and growing, as well as other developing regions worldwide. Experts project that by the year 2050, food production must increase by about 70 percent globally and by nearly 100 percent in developing countries in order to feed the planet’s inhabitants. All of the student designers visited the 1-square-kilometer site near Hanoi to better prepare for the competition, which limits housing to no more than half of the land surface.

One UC Berkeley student team solution is to gear the area up to produce nearly 30 times the food of the original site, while also housing 100,000 people — all by erecting a three-dimensional framework of vertical farm parkways, vegetated market arcades, air purifiers and sustainability-research laboratories specializing in food forestry, “aquaponics” and clean-energy cogeneration. Street-lined wetlands would intercept storm water on its way to rice paddies. Students call the plan “Farmways.”

Another view of life in the Farmways community envisioned by UC Berkeley students.

Another view of life in the “Farmways” community envisioned by UC Berkeley students.

The other UC Berkeley proposal, dubbed “Edge City,” reconfigures the urban growth limit line to make way for a peaceful and productive coexistence between the city, nearby agricultural fields, food production and the systems needed to process and distribute that food. Students describe Edge City as a vibrant place where people can live and work along the urban edge, while staying close to the land and their food sources.

“The most exciting aspect about both proposals is that they are feasible in the near future,” says Renée Chow, the UC Berkeley associate professor of architecture and urban design. Chow led the studio course that brought together the 15 student teammates studying architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning and urban design.

“These proposals are not about developing new technologies, but about applying known building strategies for sun, wind and water at the neighborhood scale to develop innovative urban schemes for food in the city,” says Chow, who is accompanying the students in Singapore.

Chow notes that the National University of Singapore competition focuses important discourse around the issues of urbanization shared by Asian cities, while also highlighting how the required solutions are unique to each culture, economy and geography.

Another view of student visions for "Farmways" near Hanoi.

Another view of student visions for “Farmways” near Hanoi.

“Sustainable cities are a global problem that requires local solutions,” says Chow.

There are cash prizes for the top three awards.  Among the judges this year is Allison Williams, vice president and director of design at AECOM, who earned an M.A. in architecture at UC Berkeley in 1976.

UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design is devoted to sustainability, design excellence, social equity and environmental justice, ecological integrity, economic vitality and community engagement through design, planning and technological innovation.


The website for the National University of Singapore School of Design and Environment:

To read more about the work of Renée Chow, who was named in 2009 by Architecture magazine as one of the top 10 architectural educators of 2009, click here.

Professor David Zilberman wrote “In Praise of this year’s World Food Prize Laureates” for The Berkeley Blog.