Agrotopia promotes urban food production | Innovative rooftop agriculture

Agrotopia is a new research centre for urban horticulture in Belgium

The rooftop greenhouse Agrotopia in Belgium has become Europe’s largest public building dedicated to urban food production. 

Conceived by Van Bergen Kolpa Architecten in collaboration with Meta Architectuurbureau, Agrotopia highlights the feasibility of rooftop agriculture in an urban setting. At its location in the city of Roeselare, the building will be used both for the production of food and to educate the public on agriculture and its environmental benefits. It was commissioned by REO Veiling together with Inagro, the Flemish research institute for agriculture and horticulture.

A broad ascending staircase leads visitors into the main building where learning facilities are located

The 9,500 square-metre greenhouse was constructed on top of the REO Veiling agricultural market headquarters, and houses a range of urban food production demonstrations. In four different climate zones the cultivation of various fruit and vegetables is made possible, including hydroponic growing systems for tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and leafy greens. 

“Agrotopia as a test case: building a greenhouse atop an existing building has never been done before on this scale and it presented many opportunities and challenges. The integration of the steel greenhouse with the concrete substructure and complex installations has resulted in a true public building with exceptional architectural quality for the city of Roeselare,” says Niklaas Deboutte of META Architectuurbureau. 

The building features different climate zones in which various plants can thrive

Greenhouse architecture 

Faceted glass frontages give the impression of one cohesive greenhouse with a steel-constructed frame for this high-tech research facility. The transparency of the façade emphasises the building’s agricultural and public function, providing not only a warm and humid environment but also a place where people come to work and learn. 

“With Agrotopia we have differentiated and perfected the standard Venlo greenhouse,” says Jeroen Smiemans from Smiemans Projecten. From the entrance a wide staircase leads up to the urban horticulture square in the heart fo the building, designed to welcome visitors. A double-height conservatory supports vertical cultivation, and its horizontal faceted construction guarantees good sunlight levels for the crops, whilst also creating a reflection-free view at ground level. 

Spanning 9,500 square metres, the Agrotopia rooftop rests on the concrete base of the crate sheds ©Filippo Rossi

Urban food production and the circular economy 

Agrotopia addresses the increasing and pressing need to use space in our cities as sustainably, economically, and efficiently as possible. Urban agriculture is “a way of activating residual space in the city” as they describe it, and encourages the community to know where food comes from. Through water recuperation and by reusing urban waste heat, Agrotopia aims to exist in circular symbiosis with the city.

Diagram showing the circular food supply chains, courtesy of Van Bergen Kolpa Architecten and META Architectuurbureau

Here, large-scale and professional research into the emerging field of horticulture takes place, and all within close proximity to the growers of REO Veiling. Sjaak Bakker of Wageningen University & Research, BU Greenhouse Horticulture, believes: “The next generation urban farmer will not only learn how to grow both leafy and fruit vegetables; they will also learn how to work with new technologies and business models.”

Tractebel engineering created box-in-box spaces for research and education with a climate adapted to people

Project details:

Client: Inagro and REO Veiling

Location: Oostnieuwkerksesteenweg, Roeselare, Belgium

Surface Area: 9,500 m2

Architecture: Van Bergen Kolpa Architecten and META Architectuurbureau

Construction and installations: Tractebel

Horticulture techniques: Wageningen University & Research; BU Greenhouse Horticulture

Greenhouse construction: Smiemans Projecten

Photography: Filip Dujardin (unless otherwise specified in image caption)

Learn more about the rooftop greenhouse by Inagro.

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