A project by a University of Pretoria architecture Masters student promoting “urban agriculture” in old industrial constructions that have been adapted with low cost materials, walked away with the Next Generation award in the Africa Middle East Regional Holcim Awards 2011. Calayde Davey’s project was lauded by the jury “because of its visionary idea and impact that appears both feasible and constructible”. She developed an architectural model for vertical hydroponic agriculture for Pretoria on the existing industrial heritage site of the Old Pretoria West Power Station.

Davey wants to see the creation of an agricultural hub that will not only uplift the lives of the local community, but also transform a soon-to be decommissioned coal bunker of a power station into a vertical hydroponic garden. The project would  also contribute towards meeting some of the city’s needs: job creation and improved health, a new cultural venue where artists can meet, a place where people can be educated about planting and growing their own food, and fresh produce to be packaged, distributed and sold.

Davey says other sites were considered for the project, but the power station was selected as the most suitable within the projects’ parameters: new urban industry, new building technologies andsustainability. While not being the ultimate or perfect site for urban agriculture specifically, the mostsignificant part of the Pretoria West Power Station site “is its story of how it is stuck in time and doomed for destruction”.

“A key factor was that the project is meant to illustrate how we can move forward from redundant industrial building stock into a new view of urban industry, and how architecture can similarly take new steps forward,” she says.

To establish the necessary framework for the transposed use, the existing crude structure is extended by a multi-floor bamboo construction. The intended market at the base forms a place of social interaction, while urban agriculture knowledge is transferred to the local community and the adaptive reuse generates numerous products (food, compost, gas, clean water) and provides a strong return on investment.

“The uniqueness of the project is not only the reconfiguration for a vertical farm building for a local South African scenario, but also in asking the question of what possibilities of new building materials we have for multi-storey application. This solution was provided in looking at structural bamboo to form the majority of the structural skeleton for the project, and we aimed to achieve a seven-storey building from this material,” she says.

According to Davey’s approach, grey and rain water can be used to grow food in close proximity to the urban consumer. Biogas production and rainwater harvesting provide resource-efficient energy renewal and the existing water system is reused for agricultural production.

She adds: “It is not simply meant to be a vertical garden only; it’s meant to be an urban agriculture production point. The project aims to redevelop not only physical environments, but provide work and employment and labour skills (farming, hydroponics).”

The full feature appears in the December-January 2011/12 on p28.