Looking on to the past decade, resources needed for human survival are growing scarce daily. On the one hand, climate change has brought about extreme living conditions in most third-world countries; on the other hand, economic crisis looms over the living standards of first-world countries. It is predicted that human survival will be complicated by the end of this century if our unsustainable approach to resource consumption prevails as it is today. Urban areas have taken a step towards sustainability by adapting roof gardens, vertical gardens and urban farms. Although the food system hasn’t been perfected to this day, several setbacks hinder its growth.

Food Systems in the future - Sheet1
Jewel Changi Airport_ ©Jewel Changi Airport

Adaption of Machinery | Food Systems

Beginning in the 1930s, western society adopted a mechanized version of farming to attain productivity in architecture. The drawback of autonomous agriculture was the amount of fossil fuel it consumed. The large machinery brought about an economic change with a faster food production rate, but this had a negative effect on environmental sustainability. Over time, the food industry has been monopolized, with the power and resources being concentrated in the hands of a few. The food system has drastically changed from fresh organic to processed food. Further, this has restricted the farmers from producing according to their wishes as they have to depend on retailers and corporations for their source of income. A farm is dedicated to growing the same food all year round, bringing unsustainable food systems as a disease or calamity might disturb the demand and supply cycle.

Food Systems in the future - Sheet2
Greening with the cityscape_ ©Tishman Speyer

Urban Farms

Urban farms are designated green spaces in a developed areas dedicated to growing food and raising smaller animals like goats, rabbits and turkeys. Mainly urban farms are located in the proximity of the owner’s residence. The objective of urban farms has changed from feeding an individual to an entire community in most places. South Asian countries have urban farms implemented on a larger scale where they sell the grown food with very little profit. Urban farms do not necessarily have to be on land; they can be adapted on rooftops or balconies.

Food Systems in the future - Sheet3
Terramera Greenhouse_ ©Karn Manhas

Rooftop Garden

The concept of a rooftop garden is relatively new to architecture. The rooftop garden is the perfect blend of architecture with a food system. Initially popularized by master architect Le Corbusier in the 30s, in his five points for modern architecture, rooftop gardens gained popularity as a food system only in the 60s. The multi-storied building utilized rooftop gardens to reduce the carbon footprints of the built-up structure. Today, rooftop gardens have changed from a mere decoration element to a resourceful building component. Most families serve themselves from their rooftop garden without having to depend on the market daily. Fresher organic food allows for a better state of mind. Architecture that adapts food systems like its own is more sustainable and more energy efficient in the long run.

Food Systems in the future - Sheet4
Villa Savoye_ ©LandsDesign

Green Balconies

Another type of food system integrated into architecture is a green balcony. Green balconies are prevalent in urban areas where population density is high. A contemporary trend is in practice where balconies are treated like a part of the ecosystem, and the numerous terraces in the building create a microclimate of their own. Creating a microclimate allows for seamless day-to-day activity with little impact from global warming. Several design and architecture firms have embraced green balconies as the central concept behind their design; countries with extreme climates have further modified the green terraces to produce food independently. A food system just next to one’s dwelling eases their living conditions.

25 Green_ ©Beppe Giardino

25 green apartments in Turin, Italy, is an example of a green balcony-based food system. The rusty-looking exterior is juxtaposed with shrubs and herbs on the balconies. The busy urban life of a person is eased when it comes to food like potatoes, spinach, and coriander, which can be grown on small volumes of soil. The garden itself serves as a healthy ecosystem.

Future of the food system

A strong collaboration between designers, planners and food system experts offers many potential models for the future of sustainable food production. A sound food system uses minimum resources, while a great one produces more resources than consumed. The food system’s future lies in the hands of an architect more than the client. Concrete and greenery can be combined by embracing the food system in dwellings. Food systems do not necessarily have to be juxtaposed in a building; they could be adapted in a communal space like city forums and gathering spaces. A need for more can be prioritized over an individual need. The ultimate goal of the food system is to achieve a sustainable energy system where dependence on corporations is vastly reduced, and greener energy mediums replace fossil fuels. Adapting a food system also balances human psychology with building comfortability being enforced to the core of the architecture.

Today, as we heed for a better food system to cope with climate crisis, it is valuable to center the model on survival and ecologically sound food production. Architecture and design can incorporate policies showing solidarity for use of green space and disregard for land theft, speculation and toxicity that have hindered the preexisting food systems around the globe.


Campbell, S. (1996). Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities?: Urban Planning and the Contradictions of Sustainable Development. Journal of the American Planning Association, 62(3), 296–312. 

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A passionate writer and an aspiring architect, Bibek Khanal is an architecture student from Nepal who finds comfort in making illustrations and writing poems. His heart is set on appreciating arts and architecture relics. Being a part of the architecture and the people around is a riveting experience for him.