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Dutch specialist contracted to design and build 200sqm rooftop ‘shade house’ to grow over 3,000 plants – project to be completed by January 2021     

Leading UAE-based smart and green facilities management (FM) company Farnek, has signed a contract with Dutch green-tech projects specialist developer Urban Ponics, to design and help create a 240sqm rooftop vertical garden at Farnek’s brand new staff accommodation centre in Dubai South – Farnek Village.

Dominating the rooftop garden will be a 200sqm ‘shade house’, a structure which provides a mix of shade and light to create suitable conditions for shade-loving plants. Urban Ponics will transport this in parts from Holland to Dubai and together with Farnek’s in-house engineering team, assemble the metal tube framework for the 3m high structure onsite. It will come complete with shade netting, grow pods, lava buckets, misters, pumps, water tanks, irrigation and drainage pipes.

Farnek decided to embrace this novel concept, not only to repurpose the bare concreted space on the Village roof, but to grow fresh vegetables and other produce for its 5,000 staff, living at the AED 200 million complex.

“Farnek is an innovative sustainable company and we are always trying to identify new ways of managing our business in a cost and energy-efficient manner. Farnek Village will soon be home to thousands of our employees and we wanted to create a project that would be symbolic of our purpose and our values.

“Due to its sustainable design, space is at a premium in the Village and this initiative makes perfect use of an aspect that is generally underutilised at best and completely ignored at worst,” said Markus Oberlin, CEO, Farnek.  

The garden, which will be complete in mid-January 2021, will be used to produce over 3,000 leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, and spinach, as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, capsicums and chillis. The first harvest should be ready in around six weeks from seeding and will be used in Farnek’s own kitchens and promises to be cleaner, tastier and more nutritious, than ordinary salad plants.

“It is also more sustainable, because we can then reduce the amount of deliveries it normally takes to feed 5,000 hungry workers. Equally diet and nutrition are an important part of the health and welfare policy for our employees.” added Oberlin.    

The produce will be grown using sustainable methods applied by international experts and local materials will be employed during the construction phase, as much as possible. The growing methods include the use vertical farming columns for a “mistponic” application, which is by far, the most sustainable soil-less growing technique, as it uses up to 90% less water than the most efficient conventional hydroponic and aquaponic systems.

Commenting further, Ryan Mitchell, Workers Welfare Manager at Farnek said, “In addition to this, we intend to reuse the condensate water from the air handling units to provide irrigation (misting water). The main advantage of utilising vertical farming technologies is the increased crop yield that comes with a smaller footprint, requiring much less land space.

“There are 40 PODs each two metres high and based on the cylindrical design of the columns, which optimise vertical space, each POD should yield 80 plants. The 240 sqm area of rooftop, which is the same size as a tennis court, can yield the equivalent of a half-acre of cultivated land, so, in terms of land use it’s 100 times more efficient.”

The 100,000 square feet low-rise (basement, G+5) facility will raise the bar for intelligent buildings, employing the latest smart technology and the most energy, water and waste-efficient accommodation centre of its kind, not only in the UAE but throughout the region.

Through smart and sustainable design, Farnek hopes to save at least 20% more than a conventional staff accommodation centre, in energy and water savings, which could be worth up to AED 3 million every year.

Another 150sqm of rooftop space will accommodate solar panels which will meet all hot water requirements and more than 4,000 LED-lights are to be installed throughout the complex, supplying 90% of the total amount of lighting required.

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