Urbanana is a farm producing a wide variety of bananas currently unavailable on the European market due to ripening and transport constraints. It has its own research laboratory and exhibition space promoting awareness of the banana industry. Using grow lights rather than natural lighting, its implantation in the city has few constraints and it can discreetly adopt the scale and format of the surrounding urban fabric. When housed between residential buildings, it is primarily a façade project.
Urbanana is conceived more as a volume than as a plan. Its rotational production system occupies the building’s entire space over the equivalent of six floors. Except for its aerial gangways, an exhibition space and an area for harvesting and waste management on the ground floor, the farm is unconstrained by floors. It can therefore use natural or artificial light globally. Its absence of floors and entire occupation by plants creates an architectural expression specific to the Vertical Farm.
The façade is a totally independent element that has to be both freestanding and ensure maximum transparency. Open to the public on the ground floor, the farm visually exposes the plants growing above and beneath the roof. Supported by a three-dimensional metallic structure, this large-scale glazed envelope is more akin to the botanical greenhouse than the solely functional and economically constructed agricultural greenhouse.
Urbanana’s characteristics make it a farm easily integrated into in an urban environment. Like an office or commercial building, it can be installed in a city block without disturbing its alignment. Yet its transparency and absence of floors adds a sensation of space and depth to the dense and restricted space of the typical Parisian street.
Visually, Urbanana creates a vertical park, an attractive landscape of fruit trees growing in a brightly lit space on the street. This lighting, indispensable for the banana’s growth, enhances the public space outside by providing a substitute for street lighting at night.
The technical and mechanised nature of Urbanana’s production is intended for intensive exploitation by a qualified producer.
Yet, given its technical dimension and the machinery required, Urbanana’s exploitation transcends mere fruit production. It shows the importance of the banana industry by more broadly exploiting the banana’s diverse properties, ranging from the use of the plant’s fibres in banknotes and the cosmetic and therapeutic products derived from its essence. Its economic viability depends on developing awareness of the banana industry rather than simply on sales of the fruit itself.
Although banana production is highly mechanised and requires little manual labour, promoting the industry creates jobs and requires a variety of qualifications.
From a pedagogical point of view, Urbanana acts as a kind of embassy for the banana, in which one can discover a host of varieties too fragile to be transported to France. The aim of this farm isn’t to be entirely dedicated to food production but particularly to the question of the taste and texture of the fruit, their origin, name and history.
Although Urbanana can considerably reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow varieties normally unavailable on the European market, it also demonstrates the consequences of the consumption of a fruit growing on the other side of the world. The carbon footprint of this mechanised, heated building would be less than the transport of the fruit from the Caribbean.
Like other tropical fruits, the banana has become a culturally established part of our diet. This is why it will remain on the European market but also become a luxury product.
But the primordial question posed by such a farm is the impact on the economy of banana-producing countries. And this isn’t a simple question. Although the banana has become a key source of income for Caribbean economies, its intensive production has caused considerable environmental damage. The drive for productivity at any price, inadequate waste management, soil depletion and packing methods are now threatening these countries with bankruptcy.
Yet it would be difficult to imagine Urbanana as an urban showcase for the adoption of sustainable banana growing methods in the Caribbean.
Showing the banana to be a luxury product, Urbanana would be too difficult to replicate as a large-scale food production unit. Its mechanization, artificial heating and lighting are more suited to a cultural site or an educational farm.