Marrying Architecture, Sustainability and Agriculture

sustainable agriculture and farming


Agriculture and farming are both staples of the British landscape and they are essential for the generation of money across the UK. Ever since the Stone Age, people have farmed different areas of land to produce crops and rear animals for food and to sustain communities, managing this by designing innovative tools and techniques specifically for farming purposes.

As the population has grown, so too has the number of farms dedicated to producing livestock and crops to feed it. As a result, by the Middle Ages, it became increasingly necessary to design and build structures to house these animals and crops to ensure that enough food was produced for the entire population. At this point in time, wood was the most available material to use for these purposes, and so the vast majority of these structures were often built entirely from wood, or had a stone/brick base (in later centuries) with a wooden structure fitted on top.

Although these buildings served their purpose, they were (and still are) susceptible to weather-related damage, fires caused by electricity and machinery nearby, and rot caused by excess damp. Regular monitoring and maintenance on these types of building are required to maintain the structure and prevent collapse, with large sections often needing fixing. This requires a significant amount of wood and, with the number of farms across the UK constantly expanding, it has placed a large burden on the production of wood for agricultural purposes. Environmentally-speaking, this approach is no longer viable and places strain on natural woodland areas – using trees far faster than we can replant and replace them.

In a time when the world as a whole is becoming more aware of the imminent and harmful effects of climate change, it seems prudent then to analyse the different ways these types of buildings can be built so as not to have a detrimental effect on the environment. Luckily, there are a range of architectural design solutions and farming practices that could help combat some of these concerns.  

Ikea-Style, Flat-Pack Design

At Kit Buildings Direct, a family-run business specialising in agricultural and industrial building design, there are a range of options available to farmers wishing to erect large structures to house livestock, machinery, and crops, with options including flat-packed agricultural buildings made from steel, cladding, and industrial designs. Their agricultural buildings made from steel are low-maintenance and sustainable, in that they are less susceptible to weather-related damage over time and produced by materials that are easily obtained and formed for this purpose.

Installation is simple, with erection completed by the firm in a safe and considered manner, providing exemplary housing for livestock that protects them from the cold and damp.

Churchdown Dairy, New York

The UK isn’t the only country looking into architectural designs for farming structures that are much more convenient and yet still environmentally-friendly in their sustainability – from stables to barns to equestrian centres.

At Churchdown Dairy in Hudson, New York, architect Rick Anderson designed a four-storey barn to house dairy cows during the winter, whilst also making it accessible enough to be used as an event space during the summer months.

The lattice design of the building reinforces the strength, meaning that it is less susceptible to damage and therefore requires far less maintenance than other, more traditional wooden structures designed for this purpose. In addition, the fact that it has multiple uses as a building means that it is used throughout the year and is therefore properly maintained as a result, again, meaning that less work is required to fix and protect the building. 

Oosterhout Farm, The Netherlands

At this innovative farm in Rijswijk, the Netherlands, architects combined traditional Dutch infrastructure with modern eco-friendly practices to produce buildings that are not only fit for purpose, but sustainable too. 

Clad in stained Douglas fir, the structure has solar panels on top of it, enabling the family farm to exist off the grid and act as a more eco-friendly structure in what is considered to be a large polluter across the world – livestock farming. 

Again, the building functions as multiple different things, such as an apartment and office, meaning that it is regularly checked and maintained throughout the year, ensuring that it is long-lasting and less likely to require repair or replacing. This makes it a more sustainable version of the old Dutch barns upon which it was based.

Speaking of Solar Panels…

As established in the above example, one way of ensuring that your farm is more sustainable and eco-friendly is to invest in solar for farmers to produce the power the farm requires. Whether you decide to set out rows upon rows of solar panels on the ground, creating a type of solar-panel farm, or place them on the top of existing buildings, this way of producing the energy required for the farm to run means that farms can be run in a self-sustaining way.

This is also in alignment with the government’s commitment to a net-zero carbon policy to help reduce the effects of climate change on the world. 

What Else Can Be Done to Make Farms More Eco-Friendly?

As already stated, farms are one of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases that negatively impact the climate around us, meaning that it is vital to build using more sustainable practices and buildings to counteract this and help make a positive change. 

Land reuse is a widely-known practice that is much better for the world as a whole. Rather than expanding farms to produce the volume of resources required, there are innovations in crop protection products and biotech seeds that make use of existing land and make it possible to grow new crops in previously-used soil – something which has often been overlooked due to the need to give the soil time to recover, in order to protect the seeds and crops planted there. These innovations render the previously essential breaks as less necessary. 

In addition to solar panels, there are other forms of renewable energy that farms can invest in to ensure that the energy they use is more sustainable, rendering the farms as self-sufficient and off the national grid – and therefore using up less of the country’s overall available energy. Hydro (water) and wind power are two examples of these sources. For the former, access to a substantial amount of water is necessary, meaning that it is not a possibility for every farm across the UK. Wind power, however, is much more accessible for the vast majority due to the British climate, as well as the total number of wind farms present across the British landscape. There’s also the option of geothermal heat pumps to consider.

Another method of rendering farming practices more environmentally-friendly is crop rotation. Soil health is a major concern of many farmers, as the health of the soil can disintegrate over time. Crop rotation, which includes altering the crops planted in a particular field on a 1-or-2-year-cycle, increases the biodiversity of the area, and decreases the likelihood of soil-borne pathogens occurring and multiplying – which can be harmful to crops planted there. Additionally, decreased tilling – or even no tilling – is an option for farmers looking to increase their sustainability. It prevents the soil from being continually disturbed and therefore reduces erosion whilst enabling the prevalence of healthy organic material.

A focus on water conservation is also a handy way to reduce the impact of farming on the environment, as many thousands of litres are required daily to water crops and hydrate livestock. A simple method of achieving this could be to cover crops with material that allows sunlight in but prevents the escape of moisture. Poly-tunnels are able to do exactly this – they collect the condensation created via evaporation, whilst also protecting the crops from the elements, which is a win-win situation! Well-designed irrigation systems are also essential to the conservation of water. They should include water-return systems and scheduled irrigation, preventing unnecessary loss of water and the subsequent need to replenish sources. 

Farm machinery is a major pollutant on farms, as well as different herbicides, fertilisers, and pesticides that are used to encourage crop growth and prevent damage. Whilst EU Law has banned the use of some of the more potent versions of these, Brexit means that this has the potential to change and increase local air pollution. To avoid maximum damage as a result of these being used, targeted applications – as opposed to generic, wide-ranging application – of herbicides, fertilisers, and pesticides can help reduce this impact and ensure that their use is limited and, therefore, the damage they exert on local air and water.

Whether it is via the materials used to construct farming buildings, altering the practices used on farms, or specifically designing structures with the aim of making them more sustainable and energy efficient, there are plenty of ways that agricultural farming practices can be married with architecture and sustainability concepts for a much more eco-friendly farming system. It’s just a matter of getting the word out there.


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TAGS:sustainability, Farming, Agriculture

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