NYC Sky Condo: Building Food for the Future

The Chelsea Ramble represents an innovative approach to urban, vertical farming. It combines luxury, residential living space with a climate-controlled vertical farm, a farm-to-table restaurant, and a farmers market, of which the latter two can be enjoyed equally by building residents and the public. Located along Manhattan’s High Line Park, the Chelsea Ramble is agriculturally sustainable, economically viable, and aesthetically pleasing.

Standing 47 meters above the sidewalk and housing 27 residential units over nine floors, the Chelsea Ramble is a residential community and farm that invites everyone to enjoy its public amenities while maintaining privacy for its residents. Overall, the building is designed to blend into the natural surroundings of the city and the High Line Park, appearing as if it had grown out of the concrete to become another alluring facet of the park, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.

To accomplish this, weathering steel was used to liken the façade of the building to the aged, industrial complexes of the Meatpacking District. Similarly, wood and concrete decking are continuous from the High Line down to the cement sidewalk. Additional materials included painted structural steel, glass, gravel, and reclaimed wood – all of which can be found both on the High Line and in neighboring buildings. By creating a building that appears to have grown out of the sidewalk, we were effectively able to preserve the overall look and feel of the neighborhood.

The residential tower and vertical farm stand atop a base building that provides natural ingress and egress to the park through a series of ramps and short runs of steps. To further enhance the building’s appearance as a natural extension of the park, a public pavilion was integrated. The pavilion not only anchors the elevated and interlocking residential tower and vertical farm to the street plane, but also provides a continuation of the High Line by gradually revealing branching, meandering paths and garden niches within a sculpted, hilly landscape. This dual-purpose feature enables visitors to enjoy the quiet landscape of rich foliage or conveniently pass through it to reach either the High Line or 18th Street. Along with being a device to form the path, the use of angles in the base building also ensures the ascending tiers will the get the maximum amount of available sunlight to benefit low-lying plants.

Public access to the building can be found on 10th Avenue, while a private entrance for residents is located on the much quieter block of 19th Street. From the public entrance, visitors walk beneath the pavilion to a farm-to-table restaurant and large farmer’s market, both of which make extensive use of the crops grown on the vertical farm.

The bi-level restaurant offers guests both indoor and outdoor seating, and the menu is replete with fresh food sourced from the accompanying vertical farm. The restaurant, along with the residential tower and vertical farm, mimic the ecological process by safely and efficiently recycling everything organic and using the waste to create energy that lights and heats the farm. Similarly, a composting system incorporated into the building’s trash and recycling mechanisms ensure compost is always available to fertilize both the vertical farm and pavilion gardens. Plus, using the restaurant waste for methane generation will help control vermin.

Toward the north end of the block beneath the residential tower is the farmer’s market, where the building’s farmers can showcase and sell their crops and other goods all year long. This provides an added convenience for residents who can stop at the market to pick up fresh foods that can be cooked or stored for later.

Residential units have large, southeast-facing windows for expansive vistas of Manhattan. Additionally, permanent planters are situated outside the windows, which are adorned with wooden, external shading devices. The shading devices slide back and forth, thereby enabling residents to control the amount of natural light and climate conditions that penetrate both the apartment unit and the plants. The living experience also is complemented with a line of corner units that feature shaded terraces and offer occupants a Hudson River view. And to protect residents’ privacy, the terraces are cut deep enough into the building so people can remain out of sight from passersby on the High Line. 

Two especially distinctive features of the building are an atrium, which is carved out of the west façade, and the large elevator core – clad in a green wall – that serves both residents and farmers. The atrium links the residents to the farm, creates a light well, and allows the fresh air generated by the green wall to circulate throughout the building’s interior.

The vertical farm is composed of four double-height stories and is clad with glass and motorized steel fins/louvers that automatically adjust to the angle of the sun. Each level is comprised of stacks of varying crops that produce the greatest yield based on seasonal light and weather differences.

The louvers are made of weathering steel and can swivel a full 180 degrees to enable farmers to provide plants with the optimal level of sunlight and weather for open-air cultivation during the warmer months.

Similarly, farmers can swivel the louvers shut to block all natural conditions, thereby eliminating weather-related crop failures and ensuring a large yield of crops during colder months, when LED lights are used to compensate for a lack of direct sun. Additionally, the concrete wall of the residential tower provides a thermal barrier to help protect plants during cold weather.

The ultimate advantage provided by these louvers is to enable the farmers to grow a variety of seasonal crops in natural conditions by enabling them to expose as much of the building as is necessary for crop production.  Thus, the design of the farm ensures year-round crop production in a protected, managed environment.

The Chelsea Ramble creates a self-sustaining food chain that uses sun and recyclable waste as energy sources; thus, greatly reducing any reliance on fossil fuels. It also provides a significant incentive for horticultural enthusiasts to be part of a live/work co-op.  Additionally, the Chelsea Ramble makes use of an underutilized space in a way that seamlessly connects it to the surrounding neighborhood and the High Line Park.

It has been estimated that approximately 80 percent of the world’s population will live in urban centers by the year 2050. Further estimates suggest the world’s population will grow by nearly 3 billion people in the interim. As such, the Chelsea Ramble offers a modern, viable solution for housing and feeding the ever-increasing number of city dwellers.