Urban Agriculture Laboratory
The Biospheric Project - Technical systems
The Biospheric Project is a collaboration between Professor Greg Keeffe of Queens University School of Architecture, and Vincent Walsh CEO of the Biospheric Foundation, Salford, funded as part of the Manchester International Festival 2013.
The Project aims to challenge contemporary notions of food production and supply, by providing a positive alternative, based on technological application, ecological thinking and community involvement. It consists of a series of urban interventions regarding food production supply and delivery, which aims not only to feed people in a more healthy and sustainable way, but also close resources cycles and improve urban resilience.
The Project consists of a technological food system, a forest garden and wholefood shop in the Blackfriars neighbourhood of Central Salford. Blackfriars is typical of many inner-city neighbourhoods in the UK, being economically, socially and environmentally deprived. Although it is less than a kilometer from the centre of Manchester, there is no place to purchase fresh food.
Architecture at Queens are responsible for the design and implementation of the technological food system. Inserted into Irwell House, a previously derelict mill near the river, the system aims to produce hyper-localised food in a way that is sustainable by closing resource cycles. This innovative technological food system, consists of a bio-diverse aquaponic farm, which produces leaf crops and fish. The system is simple, fish are reared in tanks in the second floor of studio of the Biospheric Foundation, and plants are grown in a polytunnel on the roof of the building. The system works in a cyclical way – waste food from the neighbourhood feeds the fish, and the waste from the fish feeds the plants, which in turn purify the water for the fish. Filtration in the system is provided by a worm based mineralization system.
Unlike commercial and industrial systems which are monocultural, the Biospheric Project uses current permaculture thinking to create a multicultural biodiverse system that mimics real ecological systems. The system at present, supports 3 types of fish, several invertebrate species, and over 25 plant crops. In addition the Project is rooted in the local community, through a high level of community involvement by the Biospheric Foundation, and good ties to local restaurants.
Developed in an area of multiple deprivation, the aim of the project is four-fold:
Research: The project is developing expertise and information about the design of building-integrated food systems and their performance.
Resilience: The project aims to enhance the resilience of the neighbourhood by developing new sociological economic and environmental ecologies. These ecologies provide a focus for the community, develop a new economic input, and offer a new way to develop food security.
Sustainability: With food production being responsible for nearly half of our ecological footprint, closing resource cycles in a hyper-localised way can make a real difference. In addition, the project has easily measurable inputs and outputs, which can be optimized to promote more sustainable lifestyles.
Health: Eating well has been shown to improve all health indices. Blackfriars is a food-desert with extremely poor diet. The production of fresh crops locally can promote better eating habits for the neighbourhood.
Ultimately the Project aims to change lives at a local level through an inspiring yet functional insertion of urban food production in an existing context, and change thinking at a global scale, through the development of real design-centred action research.