Relatively small in stature, the Solar Greenhouse aims to tackle a massive problem: the deepening and devastating global food crisis, a catastrophe that is only worsening under the effects of climate change, ongoing wars and supply chain disruptions. “We should be producing food and energy at both a communal and individual level,” says Spanish architect, educator and urbanist Vicente Guallart. Along with architect and co-director Daniel Ibañez, Guallart led the team of students and researchers from their master’s programme in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia’s (IAAC) Valldaura Labs, which is responsible for developing the prototype.
Set on a hillside in the Collserola natural park near Barcelona, the two-level greenhouse proposal was built by the students over the course of two months, and adheres to a “zero-kilometre philosophy” to reduce its ecological footprint: The structure’s local pine timber was sustainably harvested and processed nearby, and its diamond-shaped roof is composed of glass tiles (which ensure maximum exposure to and capture of sunlight) and solar panels (which power the entire operation). Operable windows at either end can be opened to create natural cross-ventilation.
Inside, germination takes place on the lower level and cultivation on the upper one, resulting in reliable and continuous food production. The internal climate is calibrated through a matrix of LEDs and black lights, while a technologically advanced hydroponic set-up allows the plantings (which can include tomatoes, lettuces, leafy greens and more) to grow without agricultural soil. Instead, recycled sawdust serves as the planting substrate.
This Solar Greenhouse resides in a picturesque countryside, but it could just as easily be used as a means for food self-sufficiency in busy urban settings — and that is Guallart’s ultimate goal. He hopes to develop an open-source format that can be followed to build similar structures wherever they are needed.
While impractical for skyscrapers, it’s a feasible option for the rooftops of mid-rise buildings and vacant lots, or even as a replacement for a private home’s garage. “It can give people the methods to produce the basic necessities needed to live,” he says. “It’s a new and more resilient way to look at capitalism that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. It puts the people in power and gives them some of the basic things you need to survive.”
A solar-powered greenhouse prototype in Barcelona plants a seed for food self-sufficiency.