Greenhouse produces food and energy for a circular economy

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The Solar Greenhouse is a prototype of a space used to harvest food and energy. It allows self-sufficiency for individuals in both urban and rural regions. The project was designed and assembled by a team of students and researchers in the Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities (MAEBB) masters program at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC).

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A view to the solar greenhouse at dusk, lit up with magenta LED lights that support plant growth

The greenhouse is the product of studies investigating how to meet nutrition and energy needs more sustainably. The project incorporates solar energy harvesting, environmentally-friendly design and advanced cultivation technology as a solution for the European Union’s zero-emissions city model for 2050.

Related: Natufia’s hydroponic garden embraces farm-to-table eating

Side view of the Solar Greenhouse facing the entry to the bottom level.  A bridge to the top level stretches out from behind the nearby vegetation

Specifically, the project is located near the IAAC’s Valldaura Labs Headquarters. The Valldaura campus is in the Collserola Park, on the outskirts of Barcelona. Because the site is rich in resources, the greenhouse is a “zero-kilometer” project. This means that the materials do not need to be brought to the site since water, building materials and growing substrate for the plants are sustainably acquired from the surroundings. For example, the pine timber for the structure is sourced from the park. The team processes the timber at Valldaura Labs and recycles the sawdust byproduct as a growing medium in the greenhouse’s plant beds. By maximizing materials and byproducts found in the vicinity, the system supports a circular economy.

View of the planters in the top level of the greenhouse, lit with magenta LED light to support plant growth

Furthermore, the space consists of two floors with distinct functions. The ground level is dedicated to seed germination, while the top level is for harvesting. The project features hydroponic systems, using nutrient-enriched water to grow plants without soil. Nutrients supplied to the planting beds come from an intricate pipe system.

View of the planters in the top level of the greenhouse, lit with magenta LED light to support plant growth

Alongside sunlight, which filters through the diamond-shaped roof, the team installed LED light strips to further augment plant growth. These lights are set at particular wavelengths, promoting high crop yields.

View of the interior of the greenhouse's ground level.  A woman faces the shelving units on the left while a man stacks items on the shelf above the counter on the right

The Solar Greenhouse’s simplicity allows for replication in both urban and rural communities. The model can easily be scaled for city rooftops, providing buildings with fresh food and renewable energy sources. This concept of self-cultivation tackles food and energy poverty, both presently and in the event of climate-induced crises.

+ Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC)

Photography by Adrià Goula



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