Chicago Highway Ripens Into Hothouse Vegetable Farm

by Matt Forcey

Studio Gang made waves on the international architecture scene last year with their award-winning design for the new Aqua Tower in Chicago.  Like many of the firm’s previous projects, the Aqua was designed to foster a strong connection to the outdoors and the surrounding environment.  To this end, the building features outside terraces, integrated solar shading, and one of the largest green roofs in Chicago (btw, Chicago has more green roofs than any other major city on Earth).  Building on their environmental roots, the Gang has also developed a radical plan to incorporate sustainable produce gardens into densely urban environments.

Founded by architect Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang views their practice as a lab for testing new ideas in design and architecture, constantly evaluating environments, technology, and unique building materials.  Looking at their portfolio, note how the group’s attitude towards an open, purpose driven design process results in creations that are not only in balance with their surroundings, but can expand our perceptions of architecture and engineering.

One of Studio Gang’s more out-of-the-box visualizations is a lofty plan to bring sustainable agriculture to urban environments by reclaiming unused or underused roadways and transforming them into urban greenhouses and gardens (similar to Manhattan’s High Line park).  The project proposes that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in purchasing locally grown produce, but that most cities, like Chicago, are so dense that the closest farmland is many miles away.  This “locavore” movement is reflected in the abundance of weekend “farmers markets” that spring up in urban locals during the summer.  Although these markets provide consumers with the farm fresh product they desire, they also illustrate, in the form of inflated prices, the added cost for smaller producers to transport their goods to the consumer.

Called “Feeder”, the Gang’s plan would take over all or part of the current Ohio Street Feeder Ramp (which provides access from I-94 into downtown Chicago), on which they envision the construction of multiple pyramid-shaped greenhouses, gardens and landscaped areas.  Hothouse farming, supported by the greenhouses, can produce 36 times more produce than traditional farming methods, and could provide a regular supply of fresh produce to local restaurants, food pantries, and consumers.   

Whether or not they are ever able to convince the city to shut down this particular piece of roadway, Studio Gang asserts “the project magnifies and exposes the important aspect of food production as a necessity for urban living.”  As this will certainly be a puzzle tackled by successive generations, Studio Group hopes that their designs will also be used to give “school children a new understanding and a stronger connection to the production of food we need.” 

So what do YOU think?  Would you be affected personally by a project like Feeder?  Are you concerned about the sustainability of our natural resources?  If so, support the work being done by people like Jeanne Gang and her team, and further the conversation by sharing stories like this with those around you.


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