The need to address the climate crisis is becoming increasingly urgent, and the architecture world continues to draw attention to possible solutions. Thammasat University’s new Urban Rooftop Farm (TURF) near Bangkok demonstrates how eco-friendly design is the key to saving the planet.
You can’t help but be inspired by the size and scope of Thammasat University’s innovative Urban Rooftop Farm. Being a member of the Sustainable Universities Network, the university wanted to embark on a monumentally large project and create a multi-purpose building that incorporates modern landscape architecture with traditional ‘rice paddy’ agricultural ingenuity. The design consists of a magnificent green roof and promotes urban farming, solar energy, sustainable water management and education.
Climate change solutions through design
Climate change and population growth are causing major concerns about the supply of food and water, particularly in Bangkok and cities across Southeast Asia where unregulated urbanisation of rice-producing regions have caused food sources to grow further and further away from urban areas. By 2050, scientists estimate that 80% of the world’s population will live in cities. To ensure global food security and prioritise human and environmental health, Thammasat University believes that cities must make use of empty and wasted urban spaces to produce food efficiently and sustainably. What’s more, the green roof attracts pollinators and birds, and the plants release oxygen back into the built-up, congested urban environment
Mindful of shape, form and sustainable design, the university joined forces with architects from Arsom Silp Institute of The Arts and Landscape Designer LANDPROCESS (Kotchakorn Voraakhom) to repurpose 236,806 sq. ft. of empty concrete rooftop space into Asia’s largest organic self-sustaining rooftop farm. The rooftop’s design is mainly focused on efficient water management – descending levels of farmable terraces help to slow down and absorb rainwater and promotes the growing of food. The system slows water runoff up to 20 times more efficiently than a conventional concrete rooftop.
Managing water in urban farms
As rainwater flows down the slopes, zigzagging into the different levels, each rice terrace collects runoff from the previous story, creating individual pools. The plants help to absorb, filter, and purify the rainwater while producing locally grown organic food for the campus. Four retention ponds situated on each wing of the building stores excess water, which can contain up to 3,095,570 gallons.
These ponds effectively minimise the volume of wasted rainwater and help during unexpected flood and drought disasters. Concrete absorbs little water, leaving cities like Bangkok at risk of urban flooding during heavy rainstorms. They store excessive runoff during intense storms, which the university then re-uses during dry seasons. A solar-powered pump carries the stored water upwards and back down the terraces when it is time to irrigate the roof.
Like all eco-friendly buildings, TURF is self-sufficient. It has an innovative solar panel system to generate its energy. Solar panels situated on the south side of the building converts sunlight into 500,000 watts per hour to pump water and power the university building underneath.
Why education is essential when it comes to sustainability
Education is also at the heart of TURF’s ethos. Centuries ago, the location was considered the most productive rice-farming area in the world, with farmers using traditional agricultural methods passed down to each other through several generations. Respecting and honouring the land and water that they lived with was a part of their culture. This heritage is slowly becoming lost as more people seek out careers in the cities. For the university, it was incredibly important that the history of Thai culture, and the relationship between the farmers and their native soil, would have a leading role to play in the project. The architects incorporated several open-air teaching spaces, intending to educate the next generation on their cultural, agricultural heritage. It also offers space for local communities and city builders to visit and learn about the importance of adapting to and embracing climate challenges.
A large amphitheatre provides an accessible and flexible recreational and educational space for all visitors. Twelve uniquely designed platforms on the sloping roof serve as oval-shaped outdoor classrooms. At the same time, smaller areas dispersed along the staircases provide opportunities for groups to gather and socialise or wander among the plants. Finally, at the very top of the roof, visitors can enjoy terrific 360-degree panoramic views of Bangkok before going on to explore the terraces.
All images provided by LANDPROCESS
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