Seattle Off-Grid Concept Combines Chickens, Crops + Sustainable Living (S2)

Center for Urban Agriculture

In the heart of Seattle, the design professionals at Mithun see a farm rising vertically into the sky.  Although it may never be built, the Center for Urban Agriculture (CUA) won “Best of Show” in the Cascadia Region Green Building Council’s Living Building Challenge.  Vertically constructed on a .72 acre site, the off-grid building is designed to be completely energy and water sufficient and will include 318 affordable apartments (studio – 2 bedroom).  And on top of that, there will be greenhouses, rooftop gardens, a chicken farm, and fields for growing vegetables and grains. 

Here are a few of CUA’s sustainable features:

  • 34,000+ sf of photovoltaic cells combined with hydrogen gas underground storage tanks to help match energy production and demand;
  • 31,000 + sf rooftop rainwater collection area, 45 extra storage tanks, and filtering/purifying to supply the building’s greywater and drinking water;
  • Entry level cafe serving organic foods grown on site.

Commenting on the concept, Bert Gregory, Mithun President and CEO, said, "Concepts like the CUA are extremely important for architecture as a science.  Constantly developing creative and challenging ideas is the best way to uncover innovative solutions to today’s problems."

Center for Urban Agriculture

::"S2" is short for "Skyscraper Sunday," a weekly article on green skyscrapers posted every Sunday::

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The Coolest Building Not Yet Built?
Urban Farm Design Would Bring Crops and Chicken Coops to Downtown Seattle

(SEATTLE) – In the heart of Seattle, the visionary design professionals at Mithun see a farm rising vertically into the sky.  Although it may never be built, the well-thought out ideas, imaginative concepts, and drawings won “Best of Show” in the Cascadia Region Green Building Council’s Living Building Challenge.

Mithun is internationally known for its sustainability-focused concepts and willingness to push the edges of building design.   This newest award-winning design demonstrates the feasibility of adding chickens and crops to the downtown mix, in a revolutionary building that even includes its neighbors in the sharing of resources.

Food, water, and energy are the focus of Mithun’s “Center for Urban Agriculture” (CUA) design.   Agricultural features include fields for growing vegetables and grains, greenhouses, rooftop gardens, and even a chicken farm.  Vertical construction allows for the CUA to incorporate more than an acre of native habitat and farmland on the building’s .72 acre site.

“Concepts like the CUA are extremely important for architecture as a science.  Constantly developing creative and challenging ideas is the best way to uncover innovative solutions to today’s problems,” says Bert Gregory, Mithun president and CEO.

With the goal of self-sufficiency, the CUA is designed to be completely independent of city water ― even providing its own drinking water. Grey water, as well as rain collected via the structure’s 31,000+ sq. ft. rooftop rainwater collection area, would be treated and recycled on site. The filtering and purifying would occur through the use of greenhouses, planters, and biomembrane plants which utilize plants’ ability to remove contaminates from water.

Mithun envisions the building to be off-the-grid not only with respect to water but also to energy, as the facility could produce nearly 100 percent of its own energy by means of 34,000+ sq. ft. of photovoltaic cells. Because power supply does not always match demand in both seasonal and daily cycles, much of this energy would be stored in the form of hydrogen gas in underground tanks. As demand rises, the hydrogen could be converted back to useful energy.

Another focus of the CUA is on building a sustainable community ― the site would provide 318 small studio, 1- and 2-bedroom affordable apartments.  The entry level would feature a café serving organic foods grown on site.

The CUA could benefit the surrounding community by serving as a site for neighborhood stormwater collection and distribution. The facility would have 45 extra storage tanks, allowing for handling of 20 times its own discharge potential, which could be a source of revenue for the project.  Produce grown at the CUA would be distributed to local grocers, saving even more energy by reducing transportation miles. Research indicates that 40 percent of an individual’s ecological footprint is generated by the embodied energy in food. Additionally, local fresh produce could be distributed to low income groups that often have limited access to healthy food.

The Cascadia Region Green Building Council’s Living Building Challenge is a competition that encourages building owners, architects, engineers, and design professionals to build in a way that advances knowledge and innovation in the sustainable building industry.  The term “living building” comes from the idea that it is possible to create a structure that functions like a living organism ― able to survive using only the natural environment around it.


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  • http://www.movinglikewater.com Nicholas

    Oh my god, I love this! I have a friend with a chicken farm on Vashon who is going to love this article. Very, very interesting!

    Learning more about Sustainable Living at MovingLikeWater.com

  • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

    @nicholas – great website and thanks!

    This story has literally taken off. It got over 30,000 views at ecogeek, written by A Siegel, and now there’s a front page video on Yahoo about urban farming. You’ll also note my previous story on skyscraper farms, too.

  • http://greengolingo.blogspot.com/2008/01/what-happens-in-vegas-maybe-should.html Greengo

    And now there is the urban farm planned for Las Vegas…

  • http://greengolingo.blogspot.com/2008/01/what-happens-in-vegas-maybe-should.html Greengo

    And now there is the urban farm planned for Las Vegas…

  • Stephen

    I really want to see further progress on this concept because I think this is could be a solution to are rising food shortage…I am involved in a campaign to build the first functioning tower: http://www.thepoint.com/campaigns/vertical-farm-in-new-york-city

  • ola

    just i would lke to see sections in the building

  • http://mahalie.com mahalie

    The architect’s new website has a bunch of big renderings of this project, really cool! I wish they would build it :)

    http://mithun.com/projects/project_detail/center_for_urban_agriculture/

  • John Canady

    I have made a plan to work with a chicken farm after ending this year… Have a nice idea..

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