Solar Greenhouse: Generation of Energy and the Self-sufficient Cultivation of Food


Architects: Team of students and researchers of MAEBB of IAAC
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Year: 2022
Photography: Adrià Goula

The Natural Park of Collserola, on the outskirts of Barcelona, is the setting for the Solar Greenhouse project, carried out by a team of students, professionals and experts from the Master’s program in Advanced Ecological Buildings and Biocities (MAEBB) at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) Valldaura Labs. The Solar Greenhouse was designed for the generation of energy and the self-sufficient cultivation of food, and it represents the next step towards a more ecological agricultural transformation and progress in the fight against food and energy poverty. The aim was to design and build a system that could be replicated in both rural and urban areas.

Solar Greenhouse is the result of the investigation into new ways of adapting to modern life and withstanding future food and energy crises, reinterpreting how we can meet our most basic social needs in a more ecological way. The project proposes a space for self-sufficient cultivation as a solution to food and energy production in cities and makes further progress towards the zero-emission city model as proposed by the EU for 2050. The result is an advanced greenhouse that uses solar energy, sustainable materials and advanced cultivation technology that can be implemented in the countryside or on urban rooftops, making an effective contribution to food self-sufficiency.

The impact of food production, processing and distribution on the environment can be minimized by using new solutions that commit to ‘zero-kilometer’ cultivation and advanced agrological techniques. In this respect, the Solar Greenhouse can be seen as the next step towards a transformation of this global condition and towards developing a new and more efficient agricultural format that can be used both in the countryside and in cities in any part of the world.

The prototype was designed and built during the Master MAEBB 2020-2021, with consulting from a group of experts made up of the architects and directors of the Master, Daniel Ibáñez and Vicente Guallart, the cultivation systems expert Miguel Urrestarazu, the energy expert Oscar Aceves, the water expert Jochen Scheerer, and the architects Elena Orte and Guillermo Sevillanos, among others. The greenhouse was built in a short period of time, making the dense forest of Collserola in Barcelona home to an ambitious project in the field of architecture and ecological agriculture.

A ‘Zero-kilometer’ Project for Reducing the Ecological Footprint

From its construction through to its end use, the Solar Greenhouse project subscribes to the ‘zero-kilometer’ philosophy. The water, substrate and building materials are obtained from the surroundings, allowing the food grown to jump directly from production to consumption, without the need for a supply chain.

The greenhouse structure was built with pine timber, which was extracted sustainably, collected and processed in the area of Valldaura. The greenhouse also has a supply system of nutrients, which are distributed from storage tanks and nutrient inlets through pipes to feed the plants. In addition, a matrix of LED strip lights makes growth cycles easier with the help of black light.

The greenhouse roof was created with glass and was arranged in a diamond shape to provide complete capture of sunlight, which enters directly into the solar panels and allows the plants growing inside to receive direct light.

The layout consists of two floors. The germination area was installed on the ground floor, and the upper floor was reserved for cultivation. The result is a considerable harvest, which is accomplished, among other things, thanks to advanced hydroponic techniques, allowing the plants to grow without soil. In this case, the substrate in the planting beds contains recycled sawdust, a waste product from the Green Fab Lab, another of the IAAC laboratories found in Valldaura.

The ultimate goal is for the knowledge and the locally achieved systems to be applied at a global scale and, in this respect, the Solar Greenhouse is a valuable step forward.