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ISU industrial design grad student helps design conceptual urban farm at Minneapolis Agritecture workshop

October 05, 2015


Industrial design graduate student Andrew Verhasselt monitors systems in the ISU horticulture greenhouses for his Hydroponic Food Production class.

AMES, IA — Andrew Verhasselt felt the pressure of the final five minutes on a timer as he helped complete a design proposal at the Minneapolis Agritecture Design Workshop 2015 in Minnesota.

Verhasselt, an Iowa State University graduate student in industrial design, and his team had just two days to develop and present a comprehensive project that explored vertical farming and urban agriculture using realist design.

Hosted by, Blue Planet Consulting and the Association for Vertical Farming, Agritecture workshops bring together professional architects, growers, entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers, designers, sustainability managers and students to develop conceptual urban farms for the cities where they're held.

"I've been actively following the website and was pretty excited when they announced they were going to have a workshop nearby," Verhasselt said.

Verhasselt, Johnston, Iowa, who received his bachelor's degree in agricultural engineering from Iowa State in 2014, is interested in controlled-environment agriculture and wants to begin a design thesis in urban agriculture, he said.

Verhasselt's Agritecture workshop team.

On Sept. 24 and 25, Verhasselt joined one of three multidisciplinary teams in Minneapolis to explore the redevelopment of a space in the suburb of Richfield, Minnesota.

The 10-member teams were challenged with designing a vertical farm and a food hub concept that provided a sound barrier between neighboring houses and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The groups were given code guidelines and an hour for a virtual tour of the site with staff from the city on the first morning of the workshop. The clock then began ticking down to the presentation deadline, a short 30 hours away.

Each presentation had to include project location and context, plan and elevation views, a systems diagram, a business model, a marketing concept, a yield estimate and sustainability considerations.

The team's concept featured a stepping design to capture the sun.

Verhasselt's team—which included local architect and developer David Lee Andersen, who received a Master of Architecture from Iowa State in 1977—created Cedar Steps, a concept featuring a northward-stepping design to capture the southern sun and various business such as a daycare, food hub, café and gift shop in addition to an urban farm, he said.

"It was integrated into the community with a bike path running through it, parking and bus stop," Verhasselt said.

The height of the proposed structure would provide a sound barrier between the neighborhood and the airport as well as being an iconic structure along the highway, he said.

Through the workshop, Verhasselt learned a lot about the development process of a project of this scale. "There are so many entities involved that you have to try to deal with, please and make compromises with," he said.

The time constraint "really pushed the team," he said. "Decisions were made fast and items that people could spend days on were completed in hours."

While most projects are hypothetical, Verhasselt said this project could very well come to life.

"The city is actually exploring the idea of vertical farming and a food hub for its redevelopment, and this workshop could result in some possible design outcomes," he said.

Although Verhasselt's team did not win the workshop competition, the learning experience and connections made will help him advance in his studies of controlled-environment agriculture design, he said.

Andrew Verhasselt, Industrial Design graduate student,
Jaden Urbi, Design Communications,
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289,