There is 7 million square meters of empty office space in the Netherlands! People are increasingly flexible and working from home. So what needs to be done about these empty buildings? Government Architect Frits van Dongen thinks we should stop building and start reallocating. Urban farming is one of the possible innovations.

As a Government Architect, Frits Van Dongen is responsible for the quality of the architecture and the urban planning of government buildings. This is quite a challenging task these days. After Greece, the Netherlands has the highest office vacancy rate in Europe, with around 7 million of empty square meters. A total of 18% of the office space in the capital of Amsterdam alone is currently empty. Van Dongen feels we are dealing with structural changes here. The population is shrinking, the crisis isn’t over yet and we are working and living in completely new ways. He thinks we need to creatively reallocate existing buildings. Van Dongen sees Urban Farming, or urban agriculture, as one of the options.

News on tv

In this News Hour (Nieuwsuur) item there is reference to an interview in the Financial Daily (Financieel Dagblad)

Urban farming as an opportunity

Urban farming is a trend from the United States and is sometimes also referred to as urban agriculture. The first biggest advantage is that the food is produced where it will be consumed. The term covers a wide range of different urban agriculture types, from town farms to neighbourhood gardens to balcony allotments, but also ultramodern hydroponic systems which make it possible to professionally grow vegetables and herbs in existing buildings in an environmentally friendly way. LED lighting, vertical and stackable growing trays and a sophisticated heating and watering system are used to realise an enormous production in buildings which are currently simply vacant. The well controlled environment results in a high harvest certainty and production speed and a very low risk where diseases and pests are concerned. No pesticides are therefore used in this system.

In areas where population pressure or climate problems can soon lead to real problems, these hydroponic systems are already being extensively experimented with. Think of Singapore or Qatar. The costs-benefits-quality issues are far from solved, but it’s a fascinating development which deserves serious consideration.


A number of interesting examples can be found on the ‘The Netherlands is changing’ platform, which is supported by the Government Architect. (All articles are in Dutch)

More photographs and information about Dave Smiles, the vertical gardener from the Nieuwsuur (News Hour) film.

Urban farming in Singapore

Movie about urban farming in Singapore

Some nice design examples, blogs and films can be found on Dr Dickson Despommier’s website. He is a microbiologist, ecologist and Professor of Public Health in Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University. He is an important thinker on the subject of ‘vertical farming’.