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The only way is down - International NGO and industry take on the challenge


The ITA Committee on Underground Space (ITACUS) has launched a new initiative to tackle the challenge of food security the world is facing. As part of their Next Level Program they have joined forces with the Swiss Centre of Applied Underground Technology (SCAUT) in creating a prototype underground green farm which produces vegetables and fish using aquaponics. The aim is to link this up with an underground data center, using the heat produced by the servers to warm the water in the fish ponds in the near future. The initiative is to demonstrate the way forward in finding circular solutions. These solutions are to tackle challenges of food security and additionally reduce the carbon foot print by integrating into urban data centers that are needed for the internet of things. By effectively combining new technologies, food can be consumed locally, where it is produced.


ITACUS co-chairs Han Admiraal, a civil engineer from the Netherlands and Antonia Cornaro, an urban planner from Switzerland, believe that it is initiatives like this where new combinations of uses are made, that can help cities develop sustainably. Admiraal says “It adds to the urban resilience that is much needed in large cities as we are fast running out of arable land”. “We urgently need to change our ways of thinking. By repurposing existing underground spaces into innovative pilot schemes, we can make a quick start, but we should also create more planned, customized underground facilities to foster sustainable initiatives like this”, adds Cornaro.


Addressing issues of climate change and the UN global goals of sustainable development such as ‘zero hunger’ by utilizing subterranean spaces, both existing and new ones, is one of the ways to ensure future survival. Admiraal: “The world faces unprecedented challenges and we need to make bold moves. As futuristic as it may sound, survival could lie in part in our ability to use the space beneath our feet.”


Admiraal and Cornaro released a book “Underground Spaces Unveiled: Planning and Creating the Cities of the Future” in 2018, which addresses precisely these issues. Through the book and their work for ITACUS they aim at finding new ways in an era of change where humankind is looking for ways to combat the adverse effects of climate change and to create a sustainable future for our planet.


Inside a mountain R&D facility in Switzerland (Hagerbach Test Gallery), less than one hour from Zurich and close to Davos and Vaduz, vegetables are being grown together with fish in a prototype facility that goes one step up from a similar initiative already producing greens below the streets of London. Antonia Cornaro recently visited ‘Growing Underground’ and was amazed at their production facility. “For us the challenge is to try and integrate uses at the urban level and utilize urban spaces”. “In this way we not only drastically reduce the carbon footprint, but we also have zero land use at the surface”. Klaus Wachter, Managing Director of SCAUT adds: “Underground farming offers the opportunity to produce food locally in urban areas – exactly where there is the demand. Consequently, there is no need to ship food all over the world.” For further information please click here.20/19.