The Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) presents Vertical Food Farm at the Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona. Vertical Food Farm, is a 3d printed vertical farm made out of natural materials and co-designed with school communities and children. Enhancing biodiversity, self-sufficiency and educating the public in cities, the farm managed by the community produces food and becomes a host for insects and birds. The project is a research co-funded by the EU commision in the framework of URBiNAT H2020 project, it is co-designed with children from schools in Porto in Portugal and it will be moved to these schools courtyards after the end of the Smart City Exhibition. IAAC participated in the Smart City Expo with other initiatives, read more here.


Answering to the challenge of decarbonization of the built environment and the need for resource productivity in cities, the Vertical Food Farm presents an alternative solution for our cities. The farm can be implemented in public spaces, building skins, building rooftops as well as on the interior of buildings. The use of ceramics promote the use of natural materials in the built environment while the production of edibles promotes sustainable practices of resource production that take advantage of the built surface of cities. Within a post anthropocentric view, the design of the farm can be customized to include programs that are not only directed to humans, but other species, including fauna and flora; animals, insects and plants. The project aims to present an alternative to the extractive and contaminating nature of our building practices.


The Vertical Food Farm has been fabricated with 3D printing, a technology which opens new perspectives for better addressing the inputs received from the people during a participatory process for co-design. This advanced manufacturing technique has given IAAC designers the possibility of customizing the aesthetic and the functionality of the wall and of its elements, responding to the wishes of the community without using more resources compared to a standardized production. Thanks to the use of 3D printing, a higher complexity of texture’s pattern has also been introduced in the design process to optimize for instance the collection and driving of the rain water over the entire wall or to recreate an optimal microclimate for moss to grow on the wall’s elements. The diversity of elements characterizes the final design of Vertical Food Farm which results in a composition of 5 main typologies: plant pots for cultivation, tiles for growing moss, water pools for birds, insect hotels to foster pollination and bird houses.

Among the wide variety of materials available for 3d printing, the ceramic has been chosen in the Vertical Food Farm with a twofold motivation. On one hand, from a circularity perspective, it is a local, natural and recyclable material which will possibly be reused after the end of life to manufacture other products. On the other hand, from a social point of view, being strictly connected with the Portuguese’s crafty heritage, the use of ceramic aims to strengthen the sense of belonging to the place of the community and stimulate a mutual careful attitude towards the space where Vertical Food Farm will be implemented.


The URBiNAT project aims to involve local citizens to jointly create a Healthy Corridor implemented through Nature Based Solutions (NBS) in three European cities (Porto, Nantes and Sofia) to ensure the inclusion of neighborhoods living in areas with major social and environmental challenges. A co-creation process organized in 4 phases – co-diagnosis, co-design, co-implementation and co-monitoring – is being implemented in the cities. 

In the co-design phase implemented in Porto, the kids of six schools located in the area to be regenerated have been the main actors of the process, co-designing with IAAC team several proposals of vegetable gardens which can answer to educational, environmental and inclusivity purposes. 

Inspired by initial proposals developed by the kids of the Porto schools, the Vertical Food Farm is one of the co-designed vegetable gardens investigating strategies to house both flora and fauna as well as applications of ceramic textures for bio-receptive surfaces to further host living matter and microorganisms. 

The Vertical Food Farm, thanks to the design methodology and technique followed for its development, will address the URBiNAT challenge of regenerating deprived public spaces through both a technological and an educational approach. It will provide the kids and teachers who co-designed the solutions with an innovative and unique space where they can learn and explore more about the nature, contributing on one hand to the restoration of the local ecosystems and on the other hand to the growing of a local consciousness of sustainability that will support the regeneration of the urban area in the future.


Vertical Food Farm has been developed through the participatory process happening as part of the URBiNAT co-creation process implemented in Porto. In this framework, several co-design sessions have been organized in six schools located in the area which will be regenerated and transformed into the URBiNAT healthy corridor. The co-design process, organized in 8 activities, has involved 3 groups of participants and has been implemented through different participatory methodologies. Kids between 8 and 12 years olds together with their teachers from each of the six schools, students participating in the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) post graduate programme and experts of the site area from URBiNAT consortium have been involved in the following activities:


Activity 0 (vegetable gardens for kids) – Co-selection with Porto municipality of the Nature Based Solutions to be implemented in the schools 

Activity 1 (Teachers and kids) – Gathering of kids’ preliminary ideas and inputs such as possible vegetable garden locations in the schools, preferences between a vertical vegetable garden and a mobile vegetable garden.

Activity 2 (Urbinat experts + teachers + kids) –  Co-design projects and co-reflecting on vegetable gardens functions, biodiversity and ecosystems with kids through a playful approach, assembling toy wood bricks and coloring drawing games.

Activity 3 (Urbinat experts + IAAC students) – Designing vegetable gardens alternatives with IAAC students inspired by the kids’ projects and Porto’s “azulejos” to stimulate senses and enhance the sense of belonging to the place.

Activity 4 (Urbinat experts + teachers + kids) – Evaluating design alternatives with kids through emotional mapping with emoji and intuitive re-connection of kids’ projects developed in Activity 2 and design alternatives developed by IAAC students. 

Activity 5 (Urbinat experts + IAAC students) – Fine-tuning of the most successful design alternatives trough fabrication of 1:1 scale prototypes with advanced technique such as 3d printing

Activity 6 (Urbinat experts + teachers) – Validating the fine tuned design alternatives and adaptation to the school site for implementation. 

Activity 7 (Urbinat experts) – Fabricating the fine tuned solutions in IAAC with advanced techniques such as 3d printing. 


In next spring 2023, as the next step of the participatory process, URBiNAT experts together with teachers and kids who co-designed Vertical Food Farm will co-implement together the solution in the schools.


Project developed by Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia – Advanced Architecture Group


Project Lead: Chiara Farinea, Andrea Conserva

Advisor: Areti Markopoulou

Design, Development and Installation: Francesco Polvi, Ashkan Foroughi, Lana Awad, Fiona Demeur, Ilaena Napier, Gaia Agostini, Alexandre Dubor

Students: Divya Shah, Harshul Pareshbhai Goti, Mira Housen, Mara Müller de Ahna.

Participatory Design Support: URBiNAT network, Biopolis, CES, Domus social, Municipality of Porto, University of Coimbra, Primary education public entities

Installation Advising Team: Smart City Expo

3d printing: LaMáquina by Noumena

Ceramic Firing: Ceramica Cumella

Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Science Advisors: M. Isabel Alvaro y Néstor L. Hladun  

Special acknowledgement: Tomorrow Building, Smart City Expo, Fundación Municipal BIT Habitat Barcelona, Ciutat Proactiva

Project developed within: URBiNAT framework

The URBiNAT project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 776783