Aerial from Southeast

For our sixth and final installment of architectural projects dedicated to vertical farming, renewable energies, and the construction of a better, greener 21st century, s.a.johnson discusses Aberrant Agriculture by University of Kansas Masters of Architecture student Scott Johnson, also known to the Rathaus as s.a.johnson.

The sixth and final post on vertical architecture presented by The Rathaus is titled Aberrant Agriculture. Designed by Scott Johnson, a Masters of Architecture student at the University of Kansas, the 30-story high-rise takes a fresh, new approach to growing food in an urban environment. Aberrant Agriculture combines vertical farming, residential, hotel, and retail functions into a single, hybrid structure that is intended to be self-sufficient in regards to its carbon footprint and impact upon the environment.

While other concepts for vertical farms efficiently site their towers within the urban fabric, thus minimizing the need for food distribution through transport, Johnson’s project entirely eliminates the need for transport by processing and vending the entirety of the building’s food yield on site. The building is biomimetically influenced by the anatomical make-up of a sea cucumber. A sea cucumber’s exterior skin is structured for protection while its interior anatomy is dedicated to sustenance. They have generally flaccid exterior shells that are capable of becoming very rigid when endangered and their interior anatomy is primarily dedicated to the processing of food and reproduction. These systems are reproduced in Johnson’s project. The vertical farm is an entity in the building’s core that nourishes and provides for the hotel and residential occupants inhabiting the building’s shell who in turn react to the climatic conditions that Chicago presents them.

The agricultural core hydroponically grows 12 Power Foods, as Johnson calls them, that are known for their high concentrations of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and protein. These foods include: citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes, onions, peppers, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, eggs, black beans, garlic, and various herbs. The production of food, in accompaniment with housing, creates a different form of sustainable building than has been planned by organizations like LEED. The on-site food production creates a building that not only sustains itself but the people that inhabit it daily. Johnson does not, however, intend for the vertical farm’s yield to be the only source of sustenance for the occupants but for the yield produced to theoretically equal the annual need, in caloric intake, of the residents of the building. This system thus seeks to minimize and offset the consumption of food produced hundreds or thousands of miles away and shipped to Chicago. All excess produce will be for sale to the public in a market on the easily accessible third level of the building.

The vertical farm employs similar systems to those seen in urban farming projects by SOA Architects, William McDonough, Mithun, Gordon Graff and Dickson Despommier. Fresh water is drawn from Lake Michigan and stored in underground cisterns. Hydroponic systems pump nutrient infused water to all plants. Lighting is carefully monitored in each growing area to the specific preferences of individual crops. Humidity and room temperature are likewise adjusted for individual plants and also according to sunlight and circadian growing cycles. Ventilation is controlled separately in each growing space and is capable of drawing newly circulated air from the building’s spacious atrium. Finally, energy is produced from burning the large amounts of methane in plant waste and harvesting the steam for electricity.

An urban agriculture initiative that draws water from a local resource, in this case Lake Michigan, would make Chicago an influential precedent setter for other Great Lakes cities such as Buffalo, Detroit, Cleve­land, Toledo, Erie, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Toronto, and Duluth. Imagine traveling to the city to catch a glimpse of an agricultural environment. By creating an accessible farm at the core of a residential high-rise, residents will reestablish a relation­ship with the food they consume. People will rely on the build­ing for sustenance rather than simply for shelter and thus feel a deeper connection with the building and its occupants than with other buildings in their environments.

Proposals for hybrid buildings such as Johnson’s have the ability to transform our built environments and reinvent the cities we know. Johnson asserts that the implementation of urban agriculture, housed in towers throughout cities worldwide, is an efficient, sustainable, achiev­able, and above all, local solution to many global problems.

A pdf of the Aberrant Agriculture proposal can be downloaded here or please visit to see the new addition of Aberrant Agriculture to its site and check in on the other vertical farm designs mentioned above.

For more and higher quality images of Aberrant Agriculture please visit Johnson’s Flickr account.