Gastronomia: Sustainable Agriculture


Gastronomia: Sustainable Agriculture


Adam Smith & Rachel Elbon
University of Tennessee-Knoxville



Kevin Stevens
University of Tennessee-Knoxville




This urban farming project integrates the landscape with a building that would be an iconic statement in the city of Knoxville, TN. The social community aspect of the food program is consistently carried throughout the design. The choice of using wood construction is appreciated as a sustainable material choice, as well as the endeavor to address energy use.



As social and cultural trends in the world have changed over time, the need for food will remain a perpetual constant. Every individual - students, families, professors, and young professionals – shares the necessity for food. Located in Knoxville, TN, the design will address this need and will consist of four organisms dependent on each other to sur­vive - a culinary research lab, experimental and farm-to-table restaurants, affordable housing, and an urban farm and future farming technologies. These four organisms will create a self-sustaining urban environment, or ecosystem, within a single block in Knoxville. This ecosystem will evolve with social and cultural trends from within the city to across the world, enabling the ecosystem to become a timeless addition to downtown Knoxville.


Located in Knoxville, TN, the site stands as a connection between The University of Tennessee and downtown Knoxville. The site will provide residents and visitors with community gathering spaces, farm­ers markets, a co-op, and restaurants, acting as a way to tie together the activities taking place on the UT campus and downtown Knoxville. The site contains three trolley stops and five bus routes, providing residents, employees, and the surrounding community means to travel to and from the site each day. In addition to this, the design includes bike facilities to encourage visitors to ride bikes to and from the site, reducing carbon emissions. Because the site is located in downtown Knoxville, visitors and residents can easily walk to and from the building each day, and they will have easy access to restaurants, parks, a library, and federal buildings surrounding the site.


Portions of the site will be covered by landscape and vegetation in a living wall, landscaped balconies, and hydroponics facilities. The urban farm will grow and produce vegetables that grow well in the East Tennessee climate – tomatoes, spinach, peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, and squash. The plants hanging off of the green wall include climbing hydrangea, cross vine, and carolina jasmine, all plants that grow well on wall mounts or freestanding, and all of which grow better in full sun.

The climate of Knoxville includes cool winters and hot, wet summers. Because of the intense heat in the summers, the design includes a green wall wrapped around the west side of the building, protecting the building and residents from intense direct sunlight and acting as a rain barrier. The wind typically comes from the south during the day and the north at night, allowing for the atrium in the tower to be naturally conditioned by cross ventilation. The double skin façade in the atrium helps with cross ventilation and passively heats and cools the building. The design will also utilize rainwater by collecting it on the roof and in the urban farm, using it for irrigation, greywater, and water for the hydroponics facilities.


The balconies on each level and the cross ventilation through the de­sign will provide fresh air to all residents of the building, while the land­scaping on the street level will provide fresh air to visitors and the pub­lic. The design utilizes daylighting to reduce the use of electric lights during peak sun hours in Knoxville by integrating multiple windows into the east, north, and south facades of the tower.

Percent of building that can be daylight during occupied hours: 60%

Percent of floor area with views to the outdoors: 68%

Percent of floor area with 15 ft operable windows: 95%


The building will collect rainwater on the roof of the design and the southwest corner [a portion of the farm] of the site. The rainwater col­lected on the roof of the building will move through a downspout in the building core before reaching a smaller cistern [200cf]. This water will be reused in the hydroponics facilities throughout the building. The rainwater collected on the farm will move into another cistern located beneath the farm [300cf], and will be used for irrigation.

Percent of stormwater managed on site: 80% 


The design will primarily consist of locally sourced wood, a natural and environmentally conscious material choice. Because the design will consist of locally sourced materials that are responsibly harvested, the design will better energy flows and optimize quality of life on the site. The heating and cooling systems will be included through the integration of geothermal wells [located underneath the urban farm], to heat and cool the building. The design will use closed-loop-heat pumps to allow for each space in the design to be individually heated and cooled, creating potential energy savings throughout the building by allowing visitors or residents to turn off the heating or cooling to a particular room not in use during certain times of day.


The design consists almost entirely of mass timber. Through research over the past few years, architects and sci­entists have discovered the environmental potential of using wood in buildings. Because timber is a natural ma­terial, it decreases strains on the environment through production. After construction, wood still has the ability to sequester carbon dioxide, reducing the buildings carbon footprint. At the end of a buildings life, the wood can be recycled and reused, still continuing to sequester carbon dioxide. Because of this research, mass timber is an en­vironmentally conscious choice and will continue to help the environment through the course of the buildings life.


The function of the design could begin to change overtime, reacting to a shift in economic and ecological chang­es in Knoxville, as well as a change in cultural norms in the region. The programmatic plan for the design – a culi­nary research lab, restaurant space, urban farm and affordable housing – is designed to last through any changes in Knoxville, while the restaurants and labs allow for interior changes in use overtime. The urban farm will change seasonally; while the restaurants will be activated daily at different times, and the labs will change over an esti­mated 5 year span, based on economic and social trends changing across the globe.


The design process began by analyzing the site and developing conceptual design ideas. Allowing conceptual ideas to drive the design is a tactic that has been used in all our past projects, and helped us to begin to look at systems and integrations in the design that will help develop the design concept further. This was our first time analyzing materials and systems in depth, and we will be able to use this educational experience in future designs while in school, as well as the rest of our lives. As the world is growing more aware of the importance of sustainable architecture and design, it has become increasingly important for us, as future architects, to take on the responsibility of the environment and enact change through responsibly designed buildings.