As a recent graduate from The Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Architectural Engineering, I was able to compete in a national student design competition focusing on design integration within the built environment. The student competition was hosted by the Architectural Engineering Institute (AEI) and stresses the design integration of mechanical, electrical, structural, and construction disciplines. My team consisted of eight members; two from each engineering discipline.

The design challenge proposed to my team was to develop a five-story vertical farming facility that would consist of greenhouse space as well as education, office and retail spaces. Vertical farming and urban farming are old but new concepts that require the input from many different engineering fields. Vertical farming works to bring produce closer the consumer while also minimizing its agricultural footprint by growing “vertical.” The main focus of this design challenge was to create a facility that promoted community outreach and education on the idea of vertical farming. The five story vertical farm was A 53,000 square foot building proposed for Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but was designed with the idea that the facility could be used as a prototype across the country.

A large part of the design challenge was design integration among disciplines. My team used Building Information Modeling (BIM) in order to create a more integrated and successful project. Coordination issues were dealt with on a weekly basis by utilizing coordination views in Revit as well as 3D models in Navisworks.  My design team also participated in Pull Planning meetings where we worked backward from the end of the design to the beginning to determine our integrated design schedule. One particular challenge was designing a column free gathering space that would span the entire width of the building while concealing the MEP equipment with the ceiling space.

As one of the mechanical design members, my partner and I focused on closed energy loops within the vertical farm and worked to minimize energy consumption, pollution, and waste compared to traditional farming techniques. The greenhouses are equipped with aquaponic growing systems that grow produce, but also raise fish in a closed loop system. Fish waste is used to provide nutrients to the plants, which in return cleans the water for the fish. This farming technique also greatly reduces the water consumption compared to traditional farming. To supplement the greenhouses, educational spaces, office space, and retail space a combined heat and power system was used to generate useful electricity and heat for the facility. Identifying that produce and food waste was the beginning and end of our facilities energy cycle, an anaerobic digestion facility was used to generate biogas as the prime mover for the combined heat and power system. The use of anaerobic digestion helped to create clean and recycled energy for the vertical farm and also reducing the amount of methane and carbon dioxide released from landfills annually. Food waste was also brought in from the community to promote community involvement and education. The thought behind the combined heat and power system was that this could be the first step toward creating a community that is self-sustaining by creating its own food, power and heat.

To learn more, please check out the official project site.