Wageningen Student Challenge – building a greenhouse!

By: Lizzie Richardson · 13 May 2018
Category: Education

If you enter the Atlas building at around 17:30 on a Tuesday and head down to the ground floor you will find 14 people crammed into a room surrounded by food and drinks for energy. The people in the room are from numerous different countries, and study everything from plant sciences to chemical engineering. However, one thing unites these 14 people, the quest to build an urban greenhouse.

 

Panta Rhei hard at work

 

This year to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Wageningen University and Research, a challenge is underway to transform an abandoned prison in the Bijlmerbajes in Amsterdam to an urban greenhouse. There are numerous teams from Wageningen and beyond competing in this challenge and I am a part of a great team called Panta Rhei, which is Ancient Greek for “everything flows”.

So, why did I, a medical biotechnology student who can barely keep pot plants alive decide to design an urban greenhouse? Well, first and foremost, it is a challenge. I like to explore new fields and continue to challenge myself mentally, so this was the perfect opportunity to try something new and learn new skills.  Additionally, I am very interested in sustainability and developing new and innovative ways to feed the world (as I am sure most WUR students are as well). Urban farms are popping up all over the Netherlands as they are a great way to bridge the gap between the produce and the customer.

 

But, how does one go about designing an urban greenhouse?

 

Step 1 is to assemble an awesome diverse team. There are so many components of the challenge, from selecting the crops to grow, integrating the greenhouse into the community, developing a business plan, and designing the aesthetics of the building. Working with many different people from different fields of study who think in different ways has been a blast. WUR encourages group work and interdisciplinary learning but working with 14 people over the space of 10 months takes group work and interdisciplinary learning to a whole new level.

Step 2 is to get creative and brainstorm. We have had some very productive brainstorming sessions where sticky notes ended up covering 5 boards in the ISOW building. Every member of our team is so passionate about this challenge and couldn’t wait to get their thoughts out and discuss them. You could see some members almost bursting with excitement and taking a mile-a-minute. The difficulty we then faced was sorting through the hundreds of ideas, synthesising the related ones, and trying to create a coherent story out of the ideas.

I am very interested in sustainability and developing new and innovative ways to feed the world.

Step 3 is to do some research. Even though everyone on the team has studied something relating to an area of the challenge, such as plant science, business, landscape architecture, none of us has studied urban greenhouses specifically. We have spent a number of weeks pouring over literature, reading business models, and asking questions to professionals about what it takes to design a greenhouse. Our research yielded some very interesting results and made the challenge more concrete.

Step 4 is well, to go go go. We have now embarked on the design and development stage of the challenge and our first concepts are coming together.

 

So far it has been a lot of work, almost like taking on a second degree, but a lot of fun. Stay tuned for updates and make sure to follow Panta Rhei on Facebook if you want to see our progress.

 

The Bijlmerbajes

 

The Bijlmerbajes

Lizzie Richardson

Lizzie Richardson

MSc Biotechnology

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