Amidstthe climate crisis, food and water scarcity pose tremendous threats to humancivilization. Once abundant agrarian societies rich with food sources, Bangkokand cities across Southeast Asia have become victims of unregulatedurbanization on rice-producing regions. Agricultural lands have turned into pesticide-ladenindustrialized farms, polluting ecosystems with no regard for public health andpeople’s livelihood.
Repurposing236,806 sq. ft. of wasted rooftop space, the landscape architect helpedThammasat University envision and implement a climate solution with Asia’slargest organic rooftop farm—Thammasat Urban Rooftop Farm (TURF). Integratingmodern landscape architecture with the agricultural ingenuity of traditionalrice terraces, TURF creates an inclusive circular economy for the campus,incorporating sustainable food production, renewable energy, organicwaste, water management and public space for all.
Inspiredby the ingenuity of traditional agricultural practices on mountainous terrainsacross Southeast Asia, TURF’s landscape architect integrated the earthwork ofrice terraces with modern green roof technology. The 236,806 sq. ft. cascadingrooftop can slow down runoff up to 20 times more efficiently than aconventional concrete rooftop.
As rainwaterzigzags down the slopes, each level of TURF harvests runoff from the previouscell, forming unique clusters of micro-watersheds along the terrace to helpingabsorb, filter and purify rainwater while growing food for the campus. By theend of its journey, four retention ponds await on each wing, capable of holdingup to 3,095,570 gallons of water once combined. These ponds significantlyreduce the volume of stormwater leaving the site while mitigating unexpectedflood and drought disasters. They present a solution to storing excessiverunoff during intense storms for future use during dry spells.
Reusingrestoring water at four retention ponds, the TURF manages on-site watermanagement to minimize water footprint on food production. A solar-powered pumppushes stored water upward for roof irrigation. Furthermore, the cascadinglayers of rice and vegetable plantations enrich the soil’s nutrition, reducingthe amount of soil mass lost during heavy rainfall. This prevents pollutedrunoff as well as particulate airborne toxins from entering drainage systemsand natural water bodies.
Today,urbanization has rapidly consumed agricultural lands, pushing food sourcesfurther away from cities and their consumers. By 2050, 80 percent of theworld’s population will live in cities. To ensure global food security, andprioritize human and environmental health, cities must utilize wasted urbanspaces to produce food efficiently and sustainably.
Today,Thailand ranks as one of the top five importers of pesticides in the world. Intensivemonocrop agriculture continues to expand, scouring natural food sources andleaving trails of deadly chemical toxic waste behind. By replacing 75,300 sq.ft. of what would have been another wasted concrete rooftop with an urbanorganic farm, the TURF promotes sustainable agriculture, crop diversity, smallfarm systems as well as improved nutrition.
Inaddition to restoring urban biodiversity and tackling forthcoming climateirregularities, the urban farm not only feeds people, but also nourishes them.A variety of 40 edible species—including an original rice strain bred by TUacademics, indigenous vegetables and herbs, fruit trees and more—range fromwater-tolerant to drought-resistant. Each is suited to the unique microclimatecreated by the sunlight exposure, curvature and water flow of the roof’selevation.
BeneathTURF, a café—a green canteen for the campus and community—serves fresh producefrom the farm right to the table. TURF provides up to 20 tons of organic foodto the community each year, equating to 130,000 meals annually. In closeproximity to TURF, the canteen completes the holistic and sustainable foodproduction system, reducing waste and CO2 emissions from start to finish. Bythe end of the cycle, all organic waste is recycled back as compost tofertilize crops for the next harvest.
Capableof producing up to 500,000 watts (an equivalent of 25,000 electric light bulbs)per hour, the University’s green roof can generate its own electricity toirrigate the urban farm and power the building beneath it. For optimal energygeneration, the 38,373 sq. ft. of solar panels—covering 16 percent of thespace—are placed on the roof's southern side for continuous exposure tosunlight.
Withgreen power and passive cooling, TURF pivots away from reliance on fossilfuels. By cooling air both inside and outside the building, it reducesgreenhouse gas emissions from energy consumption related to air conditioningand also improves insulation to retain a cool temperature for building.
Bycarving into the mountainous architecture and maximizing the use of theinclined surface, TURF utilizes every level of the terrain to createmulti-functional public spaces. Twelve individually designed areas on theslopes serve as oval-shaped outdoor classrooms, while small pockets dispersedalong the staircases provide intimate social spaces and access to the crops.TURF rewards those who climb to the top with a 360-degree panoramic view of theBangkok centered in an urban farm and under the open sky. A large amphitheaterprovides an accessible and flexible recreational and educational space for allvisitors.
Aslush green turns to dry brown, TURF is a realistic, but hopeful solution thatputs modern urban dwellers back in tune with ancestral agricultural practices.The landscape architect implemented a holistic approach inspired by localingenuity. Carried on through several generations of farmers who learned fromthe land and water they lived with—TURF holds with it the history of Thaiculture, landscape and native soil, embedded as lessons to communities and citybuilders on how to adapt to and embrace climate challenges in building thesustainable cities of the future.