Public Works: Bringing the Backyard Garden to Condo Living
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Public Works: Bringing the Backyard Garden to Condo Living

The Agora Garden tower in Taipei, Taiwan, will give residents the chance to grow fruit and vegetables at their doorsteps.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Rendering by Vincent Callebaut Architectures.

By 2016, residents of Taipei, Taiwan, will have the option to live in an urban condo, while still enjoying the luxury and convenience of a backyard garden at their doorstep.

Construction is underway on the Agora Garden, a residential tower with built-in food, flower, and “aromatic” gardens on each of its 20 floors. Although the building is located in a dense urban district in a 2.6-million-person city, residents of the building will have the opportunity to grow their own fruit and vegetables, compost their organic waste, and be surrounded by greenery—just as they could if they lived in a quiet suburban house.

From the outside, the building is meant to look like a wall of vegetation. Though the garden balconies will be only on two opposing sides of the tower, the structure is twisted, like a length of liquorice, so no matter which side the street-level observer stands on, they’ll get a hit of leafy greens.

The design, which has been awarded LEED gold certification for its eco-friendliness, also incorporates recycled material for building furnishings, as well as solar power and rainwater collection for the tower’s apartments. For the property surrounding the tower, designers have planned a densely wooded park ringed by a moat.

The Agora Garden aims to make the city-living experience a little less cold, grey, and sterile—an aim most Torontonians can certainly get behind. Real estate experts can’t agree whether our city’s condo market is booming or busting. But there are already thousands of Torontonians living in tall towers, huddled close together, with little immediate access to gardens and trees and leaves of grass.

There’s a lot to be said for living centrally—in downtown Toronto, or Taipei, or wherever. No matter what ex-deputy mayor Doug Holyday said, you can raise a family in the core, and probably a pretty happy, thriving one at that. But there are some personally, socially, environmentally enriching activities such as tending a garden and raising your own food that are a lot harder to engage in when you live in a dense concrete building on a dense concrete block. We have green roofs; we have community gardens. How much of a stretch is it to imagine each apartment or building floor having its own garden space?

Those spaces can be accommodated—and it doesn’t take a state-of-the-art tower to do it. All it really takes is an adjustment in our expectations for city dwellings. We expect most houses to have gardens—why not most towers as well?