Halfway there with the ultimate urban greenhouse

Our concept of the ultimate urban greenhouse for the international student challenge is slowly coming together, let's do a quick recap of the process.

Only a few months passed by and we are already in the middle of the competition. So far it has been extremely rewarding experience, at least for me personally, and I think the best is yet to come. Apart from knowing much more about food production and its connected topics, there is a lot to learn about teamwork and project management as well. And let’s not forget about new contacts, which can have a significant effect at any time in the future.

The challenge proposition itself must have been really exciting since we managed to get something little over 20 members. Compared to the other teams, we are one of the larger ones. But as it often happens, the excitement decreases over the time with the workload and other duties. At the moment, we have around 12 active members, but I can still say that we are strongly confident in this (core) team’s abilities and performance. Additionally, I have to bow to really small teams participating, who have only 2 or 3 people, because the amount of work for them must be almost insane. Kudos!

As you might remember from the previous article, during January and February we were provided with educational lectures, presentations, and other materials. These were very influential since all members could get a better idea about all areas that the project of this size includes. Even though we have members with a background in almost all of these, it really broadens the vision of each member beyond their expertise. For an example, for me, that was recycling and ecology. And of course, for smaller teams, this was essential for their project development.

Initially, we felt like all lectures were way too general and only partially useful for our needs, but later we realized that it is really our task to decide on specific approach and technology. Even the organizer, the Wageningen University & Research, was later aware of this and they collected feedback from all teams for other upcoming challenges. It was also nice to have calls with experts from different fields and be able to get detailed answers to our questions.

The own process started with a research on all available technologies. Although it would be great to come up with some brand new innovative solutions, the length of the challenge simply doesn’t allow us to do that. I can’t be going into the detail at this point since the challenge is still ongoing, but there will be definitely a comprehensive documentation of the result of our work when finished. In the end, however, it all comes down to the limitations of the building we were given to work on (there is a possibility to tear the current one down and build a completely new one, but we feel that reusing what is already there is one of the primary principles of urban farming). Also from the communication with organizers, we feel that they rather put more emphasis on economic and social feasibility.

So far we have been meeting once a week, presenting and discussing individual technologies and visions, which later got us into some kind of a loop. One of the major issues I was able to spot was our one-dimensional thinking. We were designing floor by floor, each as a separate production unit. The cause for that was potentially the building scheme we were given, which has cuts for each floor, on which then we based all our work. We were completely tunnel-visioned by this until our architect members pointed this out with their creative ideas. The organizers defined that the winning project should not be a bunch of individual ideas put together under one roof, which is currently the direction we are slightly leaning to. Nonetheless, I believe that reasonable variety put into a nice thought-through package can still be a very successful competitor.

Fortunately, in April we held a working weekend session (some photos from the event on the Instagram), where we narrowed our common vision on the whole concept and also ran a massive research sprint. After the weekend we know what our goal is and how to get there. At this point, we know what our goal is and how to achieve it. Our main focus will be on the implementation of chosen technologies, as well as making it all financially sustainable and socially attractive. The final submissions are required to be sent by the end July and should include a dossier describing the full concept, a proof of concept and demo of the key enabling technologies, and a 2-minute video of the team’s concept. All of that will lead up to the final event, taking place at the end of August, where all teams will have a chance to pitch their results.

As much I am hopeful about our work, I can’t hide my curiosity of what other teams will bring in to the table. And to be completely honest, I secretly hope that someone will come up with something that we haven’t even think off, something that will broaden our view even more and will make us all hungrier. In the end, this is a global task – the more minds and attention we can bring in, the better solution we will create.

If you would like to more about this challenge, be sure to check out the official website of Wageningen University & Research. Concept visualization by Aprilli.