Integrate Architecture and Agriculture: Rooftop Greenhouse Agrotopia
Van Bergen Kolpa Architects + META architectuurbureau
materials provided by
Van Bergen Kolpa Architects, META architectuurbure
SPACE June 2022 (No. 655)
Integrate Architecture and Agriculture
interview Jago van Bergen, Evert Kolpa co-principals, Van Bergen Kolpa Architects + Niklaas Deboutte, Eric Soors co-principals, META architectuurbureau × Park Semi
Park Semi (Park): Commissioned by Inagro, a Flemish agricultural and research institute and REO Veiling, the agricultural cooperative company, Rooftop Greenhouse Agrotopia (hereinafter Agrotopia) is an urban food centre built on the roof of a vegetable and fruit auction facility in Roeselare, Belgium. What is the background to the project and what did it require to be established?
Van Bergen Kolpa Architects, META architectuurbureau (Bergen Kolpa, META): Agrotopia is a pilot project of the Flemish Government Architect that places the focus on social and environmental challenges that demand innovative building projects. The aim of a pilot project is to establish cooperation across different sectors so as to facilitate architectural and social innovation. The strength of these pilot projects is that theories are directly tested against reality. Agrotopia was born out of this process. Meanwhile Inagro needed a new research location for practical research and the development of innovative techniques for greenhouse and urban agriculture. REO Vegetable auction is the place where the growers convene and link research to practice.
Park: Van Bergen Kolpa and META Architectuurbureau collaborated on the design. I would like to hear more about how the two companies came to work together and the division of roles. What are the main issues and challenges in greenhouse design?
Bergen Kolpa, META: Having both been teaching at the University of Delft Jago van Bergen and Niklaas Deboutte combined their expertise on Architecture for Food (van Bergen Kolpa) and public Buildings (META) for this project. With their design they have delivered Europe’s largest public building dedicated to urban food production. Building a greenhouse atop an existing building has never been done before on this scale and it presented many opportunities and challenges. The integration of the steel greenhouse with the concrete substructure and complex installations has resulted in a true public building with exceptional architectural quality for the city of Roeselare. Moreover, Rooftop greenhouse Agrotopia was the work of a multidisciplinary and international team for a multifaceted project. Specialists in the field of architecture, horticulture, greenhouses, climate and construction. META architectuurbureau, van Bergen Kolpa Architects, Wageningen UR glasshouse horticulture, Tractebel Engineering and Smiemans worked together on this project.
Park: The total area is 9,500㎡. What kinds of programmes will operate in this greenhouse? Bergen Kolpa, META: The building operates high-tech research facilities for the cultivation of fruit and leafy vegetables surrounded by an educational trail for the general public. In four different climate zones, the cultivation of tomatoes and lettuce, but also peppers and strawberries, can be followed. Furthermore you can find education rooms, an auditorium, offices and expo spaces for horticulture suppliers.
Park: Crops require different climatic environment and conditions. How do you hope to solve the problem in Agrotopia? How does the greenhouse, which cultivates fruits and vegetables, coexist spatially and functionally with rooms for research and education?
Bergen Kolpa, META: One of the challenges was to reconcile the needs for research facilities in a greenhouse – and therefore a warm and humid environment – with the requirements for visitor facilities. In Agrotopia’s greenhouse climate, it is not only plants that must thrive; it is also a place where people come to learn and work. To achieve this, the warm and humid climate for plants is surrounded by a buffer climate for circulation of general public. In the buffer climate additional box-in-box spaces were created for office, meeting and education functions with a working climate adapted to people. For the public spaces, additional fogging (evaporative cooling) is used to temper the indoor climate on hot days.
Park: How does the water and heat circulation system work? And how does it relate to the city as a downtown food centre?
Bergen Kolpa, META: Not a drop of water is lost in this building. When irrigating the plants, the run-off is recycled and reused. The same applies to energy: the greenhouse is warmed by the surplus heat from the Mirom waste incinerator. In short, Agrotopia exists in a circular symbiosis with the city.
Park: From the outside, Agrotopia takes the shape of a large greenhouse of steel and glass on top of a concrete structure. What do the materials and form contribute to the project in terms of structure, aesthetic and function?
Bergen Kolpa, META: The entire building consists of one standard greenhouse with diffuse glass. The greenhouse on the two cantilevered building heads owes its striking appearance to the expressive, faceted façades in transparent glass. On the entrance side, it forms vertical glass bay windows fitted withsunscreens whilst also preserving the interior and exterior views. On the west side of the façade greenhouse along the ring road, the horizontal faceted construction guarantees a good incidence of sunlight for the crops and a reflection-free view at ground level.
Park: What is the main purpose of a visit to Agrotopia? Also, how do they experience this space?
Bergen Kolpa, META: Agrotopia is the place where the next generation of urban farmers is trained. They will not only learn how to grow both leafy and fruit vegetables; they will also learn how to work with new technologies and business models
Park: What do you think is the most innovative aspect of this building?
Bergen Kolpa, META: The increasing and urgent need to use space as sustainably, efficiently and economically as possible has created a growing need for innovation in the field of urban agriculture, especially as a way of activating residual space in the city. With Agrotopia we have realised numerous innovations: A single building featuring different climate zones, sustainable and economical use of space, research into leafy vegetables and fruit vegetables in the city, opening the rooftop to a public function and circular use of space and energy. But above all, in Agrotopia, two previously independent worlds – architecture and agriculture – are united in a single building dedicated to urban agriculture.
Van Bergen Kolpa Architects, META architectuurbure
Jago van Bergen, Evert Kolpa, Rutger Aaftink, Joa
Oostnieuwkerksesteenweg, Roeselare, Belgium
Inagro, REO Veiling
Wageningen University & Research, BU Greenhouse Ho
Van Bergen Kolpa Architects
Van Bergen Kolpa Architects designs architecture for food. The office works internationally and focuses on clients, stakeholders and innovators who aspire to create sustainable buildings and cities, both now and in the future. Central to the methodology is the formation of a circular balance between programme, urban landscape and natural resources.
For META architectuurbureau, architecture is a craft that requires professional skill. This means that each design problem receives a fully elaborated solution that doesn’t simply mean taking the easiest route or staying on a well-trodden path. The designs can therefore sometimes be capricious or offer resistance, or can even cause friction, but they always make building simpler, even obvious. As a designer and builder, META take the liberty of being ambitious. To design a building as perfectly as possible so that its function and usage can be easily adapted. To allow a building to write its own unpredictable history and future through a design.