Seoul Food: Vertical Farming in South Korea

It might seem a bit odd that a Brooklyn, New York studio whose website displays nothing but modern art sculpture designed the tree-shaped tower known as Skyfarm, until you look beneath the surface. Why would a New York City company have much interest in Seoul? Because the partners at Aprilli are originally from that part of the world, and they both have degrees in architecture from Yonsei University of the same South Korean city. The duo have gone on to further their education in the US, with Steve Lee attending Yale, and Se Yoon Park finishing his studies at Columbia.

Obviously, the surface of their website is misleading, and they are very tuned into life in Seoul. Skyfarm is perhaps the most interesting tower farm concept to come along yet. We’ve seen all manner of futuristic building designs come out of architectural studios around the world, but not one of them looks like a tree. The image above shows the view looking down into the trunk of the building tree.

Aprilli Urban Skyfarm TowerOn the ground floor is a farm market, areas for collecting rainwater and gray water, as well as facilities for processing the food grown on the floors, err leaves above.  Massive solar collectors are incorporated into the design to provide power to help fuel everything that requires electricity. Aprilli’s Steve Lee is highly educated in LEED building, so great attention has been paid to making the entire concept super-green.

This isn’t a split purpose building, like many vertical garden building designs we’ve seen in the past couple of years. The entire focus here is food – mainly growing fruits and vegetables using hydroponics, available sunshine, and LED grow lights. The plans call for viewing decks, public spaces, and cafe’s too, but no residential accommodations.

There are 8 branches in this tree tower that will hold 60-70 garden pods each. Of the 1,555,000 square feet of total floor space, they have 475,000 square feet appropriated for growing outdoor crops, and 97,000 square feet for indoor crops. I do hope the architects understand just how much light fruiting plants, even leafy foods and herbs, really need. Somehow I can’t see fruit trees or fruiting plants being high production with the shade cast from the pods above them based on the drawings, and only LEDs to create auxillary light. And, in case you’re wondering, they are aware that heating is needed on each farming pod.

Urban Seoul Skyfarm: Exterior Garden Tiers

Still it will make a small footprint in an overcrowded urban setting like Seoul, and if they’ve done their planning properly, the soaring tower farm will be able to produce ample harvests of zero-mile foods. The question is just how much of a dent would this Skyfarm make in providing food to a population as large as Seoul’s when it’s total farming space is about 13 acres. Somehow I don’t think they’ve done enough investigation on light, because there is no way that LED lighting installed as far above the plant canopies as it looks in that image above will give them thriving crops, let alone flowering. Perhaps that just because this is a pretty concept image.

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Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.