Students make plans to turn Amsterdam prison into urban greenhouse

Twenty-three student teams from around the world have taken up the challenge to transform the former Amsterdam Bijlmerbajes prison and its surrounding area into an urban greenhouse. This innovation competition is a perfect match for the plans for this area as the prison district is earmarked to become a green, healthy and pleasant neighbourhood in which to live.

Wageningen University and Research (WUR) is organising an Urban Greenhouse Challenge with the aim of realising unique urban agriculture ideas and developing a genuinely innovative circular concept. Urban agriculture is popular both for the way it contributes to the local food supply and for its positive effect on the general quality of life of human populations.

The student teams were instructed to come up with an innovative design to turn the iconic prison tower blocks in Amsterdam into a place for sustainable urban food production. The idea is to repurpose the buildings as a new agricultural greenhouse or vertical farm. The resulting urban greenhouse should be as circular as possible in terms of its consumption of water, energy, CO2 and nutrients. The teams were even invited to formulate ideas for how to give a second life to the materials which are released as the towers are transformed.

Refreshing perspectives

Coordinator Rio Pals expects the competition to result in a range of innovative concepts. Although the teams each have a multidisciplinary composition, they have their own particular areas of concentration: some focus principally on the plant production system while others are more concerned with the revenue model or social interaction in the neighbourhood. Nine of the 23 teams are from the Netherlands while the others are affiliated with universities abroad. We hope this will provide many inspiring perspectives on urban agriculture.”

Grand final on 28 August 2018

A series of online lectures and an information package on the Bijlmerbajes area have given the teams a solid grasp of what is at stake. Now it is up to them to win over the independent jury for their concept and the winner will be announced during the grand final on 28 August.

Expectations are high among the consortium responsible for the transformation of the neighbourhood, Pals says. “They are hoping to receive several plans which can be applied directly. However, there may also be ideas that will first need to be tested in another project.” And there will be opportunities to do so, she expects. “Cities grow through redevelopment and new construction. Municipalities and developers are investing in sustainability and circularity. There will be plenty of possibilities to test the innovations of the teams in living labs."

A life expectancy of two more years

According to the developers, the life expectancy of inhabitants in the Bijlmerbajes district should increase by two years on average thanks to the more sustainable, healthy lifestyle that will become possible. “The ambitions are high. We really want this to become a hotspot within Amsterdam, and possibly even take over part of the flow of tourists from the city centre. It’s amazing to be able to contribute to such a project with this student challenge.”

The project developer AM, architects bureau FABRICations and management organisation Bijlmer Kwartier BV together form the consortium that is responsible for the transformation of the area. The other sponsors and partners of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge are Rabobank, Klasmann-Deilmann and AMS Institute.

For more information about the Urban Greenhouse Challenge, contact: