Arable Architecture: Cultivating a New Food System

Sophie Boberg

The Village Green
The Village Green

Food is a critical part of everybody’s day-to-day life. Our built environment is organised around the production, distribution, storage, preparation, serving, eating, and disposal of the sustenance we consume.

This thesis explores the connection between architecture, urban agriculture and community engagement, by interpreting the possibilities of vertical farming, and how that can nurture the community towards healthier lifestyles and provide continual food security. This thesis proposes that architecture can act as a catalyst in providing a reliable and sustainable food source for the community of South Auckland, while engaging the community to learn about agriculture and food, and ultimately influence a shift in the way food is viewed by the community.

The research is explored and integrated in the form of a specific design for a vertical farm, food market and education centre in Māngere East – a predominantly low income, ethnically diverse suburb in South Auckland.  The aim is to reduce the gap between people and food (both physically and metaphorically), by designing a collective of buildings that foster meaningful and productive connections to food by bringing the community closer to the source. The design proposal seeks to combine architectural concepts that result in optimum food production, with the inherent quality of food markets to encourage civic identity.


The underlying notion of this thesis is that architecture can have a positive impact on a community’s relationship with food through supply, education and experience and in doing so, will help to improve the health of the community.

Ap Section Right Colours
Aeroponic pod section
Ap Axo 01
Aeroponic pod exploded axonometric
Full Width Image 01
Aeroponic pod interior

The Aeroponic Pod

The aeroponic pod focuses primarily on controlled environment growing; the plants are suspended in mesh trays to allow the exposed roots to hang out the bottom. In order to maximise the number of plants that can be close to the mist dispensers, the form of the aeroponic pod is an organic shape. The skin of the structure runs on the inside of the acrylic glass, and disperses a fine mist throughout the interior of the pod to deliver nutrients to the plants. The mesh trays for the plants are supported by vertical pipes that run up through the centre of each set, which pump the nutrient rich solution to the top of the pod and then utilise gravity to disperse it around the interior skin. The plant growing structures span from the second floor to the top, with plants needing the most natural sun in the upper levels of trays. Staff access to the plants is by the thin floor slabs that are arranged throughout the space, ranging between 3-6 metre height spaces. Rainwater is collected on the roof and dispersed to each level, and the excess is stored in the reservoir below. 

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Hydroponic pod section
Axo Hydro Right Colours
Hydroponic pod axonometric
Hy Render Int 01
Lettuces - hydroponic pod interior

The Hydroponic Pod

The hydroponic pod focuses on delivering a nutrient rich solution through a network of pipes that slope through the pod. The pipes towards the top of the pod are spread wider than those towards the bottom of the pod, to let natural light disperse through the space. The rainwater catcher functions as a way to shade the pod alongside the rainwater collecting, the rainwater is stored in the catcher and is released into the network of pipes where it is mixed with a nutrient rich solution to feed the plants. During rainy seasons, the excess water is stored in a reservoir below. The form is taller and narrower than the other two pods, and the slope utilises gravity to get the nutrient rich solution through the building and feeding the plants. The plants are grown in the sloping pipes; which ensures that they receive a constant supply of fresh nutrients as it flows through the building.

Final Gh Section Right Colours
Greenhouse pod section
Axo Gh
Greenhouse pod axonometric
Full Width Gh Interior 01
Greenhouse pod interior render

The Greenhouse Pod

The greenhouse pod is designed with the notion of basic greenhouse typology, working to maximise solar energy, whilst controlling the environment within the space. The pod focuses on optimising the natural sunlight within the building primarily through form and materiality. The floors within the pod rotate around the core so that they can be placed in varying positions, which allows different amounts of sun/shade depending on the needs of the crops being grown. The form of the greenhouse pod is a perfectly circular dome, to allow the rotation of the floors inside and the exterior skin. The floors get smaller as the levels get higher, to again allow maximum sunlight on all levels. The overall structure is encased in a skin of pipes that also support the glass. There is a secondary skin of pipes, which rotates to increase shading on half of the pod. Rainwater is collected on the roof and dispersed to each level, with the excess being stored in the reservoir below.