Cornell students fuse design and urban agriculture, creating the Hydroponic Bottle Wall

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Whether or not you believe a global food crisis is looming as humans continue to test earth’s ability to provide, you’re likely to be intrigued by some of the fascinating solutions being proposed to relieve pressures on traditional agriculture.

One idea that’s taken root, though not necessarily in the soil, involves building vertical farms in urban centers by employing hydroponics and aeroponics — growing edibles without soil or pesticides — by creatively using spaces already available within the urban environment.

Cornell Hydro wall II Carly Dean
The Hydroponic Bottle Wall grows herbs in wine bottles, while providing light and a focal point for Stella’s Bar and Restaurant. (Photo: Carly Dean)

Dr. Dickson Despommier, a Columbia University professor, has been developing and promoting this idea, with fascinating results in various places, including just down the road in upstate New York.

Students XXXXXX, XXXXXX, and Carly Dean with Dr. Despommier (left center).
Students Nicholas Cassab-Gheta, Peter Gudonis and Carly Dean with Dr. Despommier (left center).

Inspired by Dr. Despommier, who was a visiting professor, and the possibilities of “productive technologies” and “growing facades,” a team of students at Cornell University created an urban agriculture wall that is an art installation, lighting solution, indoor herb garden and homage to recycling.

The Hydroponic Bottle Wall, installed at Stella’s Bar and Restaurant in Ithaca this past spring, is both “productive” and beautiful. It shows how urban design can help push sustainability forward.

Fourth-year architecture students Peter Gudonis, Carly Dean and Nicholas Cassab-Gheta designed and built the wall, with funding from the Cornell Council for the Arts, Stella’s Bar and Restaurant and GreenTree.

A detail shows how the herbs are exposed to light and irrigated.
A detail shows how the herbs are exposed to light and irrigated. (Photo: Carly Dean)

The 8 x 6 foot wall (made of plywood) holds 24 used red wine bottles, which are filled with clay pellets (the soil substitute) and irrigated from a system behind the wall. A grow light, which doubles as lighting for Stella’s lower bar, completes the system.

This demonstration project shows how even a small-scale installation, made from all local and recycled products, can help augment local food supplies. The restaurant, which already focuses on local and sustainable foods, uses the mint, chives and basil grown on the wall in food dishes and drinks.

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