Bringing farms back to the people

Designing AeroFarms to drive place-based nourishment & economic vitality in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood

How can a Newark superfund site be transformed into a viable indoor urban farm? How can a food desert in Newark’s Ironbound district be revitalized through urban production of fresh, local vegetables?

AeroFarms is a gamechanger in fighting the global food crisis. With state-of-the-art aeroponic technology 390 times more productive than traditional farming practices, AeroFarms has the ability to reframe the global agricultural context, and fulfill the local community’s food needs.

The first step in its participation of revitalizing Newark? Recognizing the potential of an abandoned industrial brownfield. RBH Group identified AeroFarms as a key anchor of a “Makers Village” designed to infuse the neighborhood with creative entrepreneurial spirit. With the help of KSS Architects and Hollister Construction Services, RBH Group and AeroFarms had the capacity to imagine a neighborhood that not only benefits from its growing of fresh leafy greens, but participates in its nurturing of an economically and culturally viable community.

With a community-based approach to design, KSS designed to establish a culinary kitchen as celebration hub and create a shared resource in deploying the parking lot as farmers’ market location. A three-volume, hybridized facility on the site of a former steel mill, AeroFarms’ multi-use campus features farming, processing, distribution, and corporate headquarters.

At the project’s heart is the renovation of a pre-war warehouse frame, redeployed to serve as the harvest and packaging center. Playful supergraphics and thoughtful massing at the street façade transform the character of the building into a welcoming and vibrant volume that celebrates the area’s industrial heritage, dips the community into the campus, and acts as a harbinger of future growth.

Remediating the superfund site and optimizing the facility for rapidly evolving farming processes required a meticulous and creative design approach. The farm’s precise temperature, humidity, and lighting setpoints comprise an energy load leading to adaptive solutions for the three-building facility. With an eye toward sustainability, the aeroponics approach uses 95% less water than traditional farming practices, and on-location research will continue to rethink and advance farming models.

Understanding the driving value behind AeroFarms’ innovative growing technology, KSS consulted scientists and engineers on design decisions to make this new model in urban farming come to life—and designed to ensure optimal building performance and a tight, energy-maximizing building envelope. Continuing to respond to new parameters and innovations in the AeroFarms growing process has been the story of the design execution—expressing a built environment that is transforming as quickly as technology is.

KSS’s impact? Layering the complexity of an interior agricultural environment that comfortably accommodates people and celebrates AeroFarms as a game-changer for the urban biome.

Today, AeroFarms operates year-round, 24/7, and delivers four times per week to local food markets and restaurants. Its success has been celebrated by The New Yorker, the Wall Street JournalFast Company, and the New York Times. By connecting downtown Newark with a new iteration of agriculture, KSS’s design for AeroFarms brings farms back to the people, engaging them in learning opportunities, job opportunities, healthy food access, and a revitalized community that can call itself an international leader in the future of food.