NYC Sky Condo

New York City Farm Tower New York / United States / 2015

3 Love 1,347 Visits Published

NYC Sky Condo competition


Leila M. Farah

Michael Good

Mark Gorgolewski

John J. Han


For the most part of the modern history of their city, New Yorkers have been at war with insects and bugs. Not anymore. The Vivarium project, which includes insect cultivation environments, residences, and public spaces connected to the High Line's ecosystem and Manhattan´s grid, demonstrates how humans and bugs can coexist and how the latter can be a source of protein, income, ecological regeneration and even beauty.

The Vivarium (Latin for 'place of life', defined as ‘an enclosed space for observing animals or plants’) building seems deceptively homogeneous from the outside. But as one enters, either from the street or through a High Line-connected staircase, one is faced with radical contrasts: while apartment units are located on its perimeter, the heart of the building is hollow, exposing a series of enclosed, transparent-facade insect and invertebrate vivariums (including sericulture - silkworm, mealworm and cochineal farming, vermiculture - compost worm farming, butterfly ranching, and beekeeping) that intrigue and disconnect. In addition, there are elevated courtyards that grow Mulberry trees, which also provide beautiful gardens for the quad-facing residents (others view either the city skyline or the High Line). The atrium space creates a strong verticality and provides a source of light and natural ventilation. The symphony of coexisting volumes is completed by a small auditorium situated along the High Line, a market, commercial spaces related to the buildings' produce (insect protein, silk, bee honey, carmine dye), and an entomo-molecular haute cuisine restaurant facing both the High Line and the vivariums. The Vivarium is characterized by a number of ecological services and systems that make it unique: for example, residential and restaurant food waste is transferred by a separate garbage chute to the underground vermicompost area, where it is transformed into fertilizer for sale and for amending the soil of the High Line.

Ultimately, the Vivarium’s aim is threefold: to act as a model habitat for the symbiotic coexistence between humans and insects, to serve as a re-generator of urban ecosystems (e.g., through organic waste vermicomposting, High Line flora pollination, or, farming of endangered butterfly species), and to provide a space for culture, education and inspiration for its residents and High Line visitors, through its workshops, auditorium, insectarium and contemplation space punctuated by the annual spring-time release of butterflies.

Quality-wise, interior-exterior relationships are emphasized. Farming is made visible to the residents and the visiting public. There are different degrees of volume enclosures that oscillate between constrictive and expansive spaces. A prominent staircase linking the High Line to the street via the atrium invites the public to experience and traverse the Vivarium and its environments. Cultivation vivariums require different shades of lighting, thereby decomposing the atrium and transforming it into a lighted sculpture during nighttime.


Vivarium is a multipurpose building, with private and public functions, including: residences, farming, commercial, services and community spaces for social interaction, community engagement and education.

Void     The centre of the building is marked by an atrium from which vivariums can be observed. This void creates a pronounced verticality, provides a source of light, and together with the High Line and street entrances also ventilates the building. In addition, commercial and community spaces are accessible from the street and the High Line through this void.

Different Cultivation Environments     Above grade, the vivariums include sericulture (silkworm farming), beekeeping, indigenous butterfly ranching (including both near threatened species and non-threatened species) and a nopalry (Cochineal farming for the production of natural dye carmine); below grade, mealworm farming and vermiculture (compost worm farming). They are located in controlled environments in which the climate, temperature, humidity and light respond to insects and invertebrates’ optimal living conditions. Moreover, elevated courtyards grow Mulberry trees that also provide beautiful gardens for some residents and feed for the silkworms. The auditorium is also considered a space to cultivate one’s mind and will host lectures, workshops and performances. When not booked for such events, it can be used as an informal sitting area.

Residences      Residences are situated above the High Line on the perimeter of the building creating a relatively homogeneous facade. Each unit has a great view to the city or the High Line, some have also a view to a vivariums or courtyard. They vary in size and are served by a separate circulation from productive environments.

Community, Education and Commercial Space     Community and commercial spaces are linked to the public realm and create a base for the project. Commerce combine high-end silk and specialized (protein bar, mealworm ice cream) stores, a pet shop, as well as a gastronomic restaurant combining molecular and insect experimental cuisine. Further, education and community spaces (e.g., community kitchen) are also provided to turn these practices into mainstream ones.


Ecological services and technologies  

A primary purpose of the vivarium project is to provide ecosystem services through ecological technologies. It is a ‘low tech, high concept’ approach, comprising of the processes delineated below. (1) Food Production (honey, bee larvae, silkworm pupae, caterpillars, mealworms and mulberries).      (2) Organic Waste Diversion: Specifically, this process diverts food wastes from landfills and other municipal waste infrastructures by feeding them to invertebrates. (3) Onsite Nutrient Recycling: This is performed through the use of innovative garbage chutes which transfer food wastes generated by the residents, the restaurant, and High Line users to a sorting space in underground vivariums as a feed for Yellow mealworms and compost worms. (4) Fertilizer Production: Onsite vermicomposting produces a nutrient-rich fertilizer to amend the soils of the High Line and gardens. (5) Endangered Butterfly Species Regenerator: Butterfly ranching helps bolster the population of indigenous near threatened butterfly populations (like the Monarch). (6) High Line Pollinator. When released, Vivarium butterflies and bees contribute to the pollination of the High Line and enrich its biodiversity.

Additional technologies     The Vivarium project also integrates other building technologies, like natural ventilation, water collection and sun-shading devices. For example, the hollow space at the heart of the building creates a stack effect and naturally ventilates the building. Rainwater is collected from the residential rooftops and channelled in a water cistern; water is then filtrated through sand and activated carbon and disinfected before transferred to a water tank and pumped into vivariums. Based on the minimal water requirements for insects, this quantity fully suffices. Also, the double-skin façade with operable windows and vertical louvers also passively ventilates the residences.  In addition, the nature and design of the Vivarium provides an economy of structure. Insect are light in weight and do not require considerable building structures to support their farming environment-with the exception of compost worms, which are located below grade.

Finally, Vivarium also hosts food and manufacturing technologies, in order to process the harvest. Specialized equipment and workshops integrated into the building enable the freezing, drying, flour making, powdering, and silk production from these cultivated insects and invertebrates.


The Vivarium is a complex space designed to create and engage resilient communities by addressing issues like food insecurity (by producing insect and invertebrate protein), and by creating fora both for education (insectarium, workshops, auditorium for lectures and presentations) and social interaction (community kitchen, market, and intergenerational and multicultural meeting space). In addition, this project attracts both high end and less exclusive commerce (e.g. silk scarf shop, haute cuisine entomograstronomic restaurant, entomophagy market and mealworm ice cream store) to foster diversity of purpose and outcome.

Reducing New York City’s Food Insecurity: production and consumption of insect protein

Consuming insects is neither novel nor as exotic as it sounds to Western ears. Over 2 billion people, especially in the South (FAO estimate, 2013) already supplement their diets with insects. A city as 'food insecure' (16.6%, with the figure rising to 37% in neighbourhoods with pervasive unemployment and poverty- McMillan, 2014), as 'protein-hungry and as diverse as New York can become a leader in incorporating these healthy, sustainable, multicultural culinary practices. By farming (vivariums), harvesting, selling (e.g., silk from silkworms in specialized stores, ground floor) and consuming (haute gastronomic restaurant, High Line level; food market, ground floor) insects, the Vivarium building project aspires to spearhead such a drive.

Educating the public     The vivariums and surrounding space will not only act as an agricultural zone, but will also be planned as a visitor centre with views into a variety of insects’ habitats. Hence, visitors will have the possibility to educate and familiarise themselves with insects and invertebrates that are often hidden, and challenge their mindsets with respect to entomophobia and the nutritional value of insects. For example, in France the introduction of potatoes was resisted and required the creation of new dishes as well as extensive education of the public). Related workshops (e.g. on silk production and batik silk painting, the dietary benefits of insect protein for athletes, or the history and practice of insect farming for cultures with such food practices) will also be offered, and the auditorium will serve as a site for public lectures and presentations.

Engaging communities     New York City’s unique urban and cultural background is ideal for the Vivarium’s social purposes. Besides accepting, recognizing and integrating diverse global foodways, its focus on insect farming, selling and consuming can bring together and engage diverse social, cultural and generational groups in a variety of related projects, ranging from community kitchen that uses insect proteins, to the better integration of recent immigrants by way of prompting them to share their expertise with the rest of the community. Moreover, Vivariums’ focus on insects can also attract research and industry interest, providing an additional set of links to its community.

Creating diverse market space     Besides the more obvious commercial uses of its output (shops and restaurant), as well as the potential partnerships between community, research institutions and industries, the Vivarium project can also help create new green jobs in minilivestock farming. Perhaps, in the future, as well as a building manager or a janitor, residential apartment buildings will also require urban farmers who will help produce food, feed and other insect by-products and transform local organic wastes.


Food Bank For New York City. Analysis based on Gundersen, C., Engelhard E., Satoh A., & Waxman E. Map the Meal Gap 2014: Food Insecurity and Child Food Insecurity Estimates at the County Level. Feeding America. 2014.

McMillan, T. The New Face of Hunger. National Geographic. 2014. Available online at:

Van Huis, A. et al. Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. FAO Forestry paper 171, Rome. 2013.

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    NYC Sky Condo competition HONORABLE MENTION:  Leila M. Farah Michael Good Mark Gorgolewski John J. Han   For the most part of the modern history of their city, New Yorkers have been at war with insects and bugs. Not anymore. The Vivarium project, which includes insect cultivation environments, residences, and public spaces connected to the High Line's ecosystem and Manhattan´s grid, demonstrates how humans and bugs can coexist and how the latter can be a source of...

    Project details
    • Year 2015
    • Client AWRcompetitions
    • Status Competition works
    • Type Tower blocks/Skyscrapers
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