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Vertical Farms in Unfinished Construction

That last post got us thinking about the whole idea of vertical farms in the context of the UAE. And it’s timely because Dr. Dickson Despommier’s latest book, Vertical Farm, is being released next week.

The advantages of hydroponic or aeroponic vertical farming for the UAE include all of those listed for vertical farms in general (less water use (recycles water in closed system), organic, no crop failures, 1 indoor acre = 6 outdoor acres, lower fossil fuel use to harvest and less food miles to the shelf, returns farmland to nature, etc.) but what is so uniquely appealing about the application to Dubai is that it offers two added benefits: 1. the harsh summer sun conditions in Dubai and poor soil qualities make conventional farming very difficult. Indoor options provide a controlled environment. and 2. it provides an opportunity to take 10%-20% of the structures that are considered “overbuilt” for the long-term health of the real estate market and reuse them for this noble (and profitable) purpose. Just look at all of the articles that have been recently talking about the glut of projects and even the potential demolition of some on-hold buildings:

Arabian Business, Jones Lang LaSalle, Arabian Money, The Telegraph, Gulf News, and this one in the Wall Street Journal that places the problem in the context of the annual Cityscape real estate exhibition which took place this week.

Rather than knock down these high rise buildings that are finished except for the facades, wouldn’t a better idea be to re-purpose them into vertical farms?

So much of Dubai’s food is imported that it is very difficult to shop locally here. Each office tower sitting idle for the past 18 months could have provided the equivalent of 200 acres of farmland and produced enough food organically and locally to satisfy all of the food needs of 200 people. That’s of course not to say that we could feed all 3 million metro inhabitants with vertical farms (this would require 15,000 VF buildings), but rather just to raise the question of why if the structures are there, couldn’t they be useful in some way? Figuring the type of money that is spent on high-end food products in Dubai (assuming $6,500 per capita/year), every idle office tower project could be bringing in $1.5 million dollars a year rather than losing money.

The investment to bring the building to VF functionality would be minimal. Finish the facade work to close the building as you would have anyway, perhaps allowing for some sun tubes or similar daylight enhancements (which could be either kept as energy reduction systems in the later finished building, or rented until the project picks back up). Then don’t finish the interiors past finished concrete, but rather bring in the aeroponic equipment.