A Belgian architect recently unveiled the 79-acre masterplan for Asian Cairns, a dizzying new vision of urban vertical farming in China. But before your eyes pop out of your head, be mindful not to get your portmanteaus confused: A distance cousin of Bjarke Ingels Group’s recently green-lit Manhattan “courtscraper,” this is a full-on produce-generating, air quality-improving “farmscraper” project in the truest sense of the word.
Consisting of a sextet of “sustainable monoliths for rural urbanity” — stacked, pebble-esque, steel-ringed transparent pods that are powered by both vertical wind turbines and photovoltaics — Vincent Callebaut Architects’ Asian Cairns is planned for the rapidly swelling, skyscraper-heavy port city of Shenzhen in the southern province of Guangdong north of Hong Kong. (Armchair travelers take note: In addition to being a bustling financial and trade center, the city is also home to a rather unusual theme park).
Beyond agricultural concerns, Asian Cairns (a cairn, by the way, is a human-arranged stack of stones often used to mark mountainside hiking trails) is envisioned as a mixed-use development that also incorporates residential, retail, and recreational areas. Imagined as being completely emissions-free and producing more energy than they consume, the Cairns were conceived in direct response to Shenzhen’s unchecked urban development and the population growth and increased pollution levels that have accompanied it.
Vincent Callebaut Architects enthusiastically explains:
In this context of hyper growth and accelerated urbanism, the Asian Cairns project fights for the construction of an urban multifunctional, multicultural and ecological pole. It is an obvious project to build a prototype of green, dense, smart city connected by the TIC [information and communication technologies] and eco-designed from biotechnologies! The Asian Cairns project syntheses our architectural philosophy that transforms the cities in ecosystems, the quarters in forests and the buildings in mature trees changing thus each constraint into opportunity and each waste into renewable natural resources!
The buildings are the acme of three interlaced eco-spirals, implanting biodiversity and density in an expanse of public orchards and urban agriculture fields. Grey water from the pod-farms will be harvested in basins and recycled using phyto-depuration, a combination of biological, physical and chemical means wherein pollutants are removed by favoring the most efficient microbial and plant sedimentation, absorption and assimilation processes. The structural framework for each tower is a central vertical boulevard, orthogonal in shape and optimized for composting and circulation. Each 'pebble' attached to this spine is a microcosm of the eco-city. Steel rings delineate space around double decking and are enclosed by a glazed skin encrusted with a field of solar cells and a forest of wind turbines. Hanging gardens fill interstitial spaces and welcome a variety of urban farming programs.