URBAN FARMING & BUREAUS: 'Zuidpark' in Amsterdam

The largest vegetable roof of Europe - the results of one year experience

Urban farming is in! In addition to tomatoes and lettuce on balconies and rooftops, there are also successful initiatives or groups of residents who grow vegetables, herbs and lettuces in many open spaces in the city. The vast rooftops in industrial areas were, until recently, a horticultural waste land.

However, a year ago a proactive investor, Jan Huijbrechts decided to create a vegetable garden on what was once an administration building in an industrial area in Amsterdam. It covers an area of  3,000 m2 for this urban farm at a height of 10 m. The building is surrounded by office buildings, commercial buildings, parking lots, freeways and highways. At the moment it is the largest urban farmed roof in Europe. A bold plan indeed simply because the existing urban farming projects were built and maintained by residents with a passion for gardening. To inspire office employees to do the same was well worth it.

Despite all of  the initial skepticism  the project, one year later, is very successful in every respect :
The huge building is fully leased to a number of companies - quite a feat considering the large vacancy in the office sector in Amsterdam. The formula 'sustainability and vegetables on the Roof ' played an important role: The roof being the largest urban farming project in Europe on an office block has received an extraordinary amount of attention in the media. Zuidpark has become known as the building with the rooftop urban farm.. The companies that have settled there are advertising this fact and their staffs pride themselves on that very same fact.  They have every reason to do so: on the expansive roof solid wood tables and benches are installed, where you can settle down in the breaks. You can take a walk between the plant boxes, and pick strawberries and raspberries, even the bush like apple trees have already borne fruit. And you can harvest fruits, onions, lettuces, herbs, other vegetables and even potatoes and take them home all for free of course. Even those who do not have adequate knowledge of gardening, will not miss out:

Harvested mature crops will be set up on a counter in the entrance hall of the Zuidpark office building providing the office employees  free veggies etc..

This is being done by the gardener for without professional support and maintenance the roof would not succeed. The costs for the gardner including expenses for maintenance of the garden, such as electricity and water, the automatic irrigation system and all other maintenance activities are included in the rent.

On the roof there are two long wooden tables of 20 m with 40 m benches. Nice for lunch and coffee breaks  or for an undisturbed thought in the fresh air while gazing at the wide horizon. There is wifi, you can hold meetings or even book for parties. In the building more than 1,000 employees are working for a variety of companies. 


200,000 liters of topsoil has been used to fill half-height plant boxes/crates. These boxes/crates were placed after researching the structural integrity i.e. carrying capacity, allowed for each respective location. A light weight substrate consisting of a mixture of soil with high biological nutrients and peck roof substrate (ZinCo) was chosen. Above the actual roofing material which covers a rain runoff system is mounted (Smartex), which consists of an anti-rooting cloth onto which a grid of sensors was mounted with an aperture size of 3 mm, covered by a membrane of carbon which in case of  leakage provides a quick distribution of water. In such cases the damp makes contact with wires that will cause a short circuit with the underlying sensor which allows one to find the exact location of the leak via a monitor. The last cover consists of concrete tiles on which the plant troughs are placed. These are watered by an electronically controlled irrigation system. More than 60 different varieties of plants have been grown organically. The combination of plants/veggies takes into account the seasons: there are always flowering plants, and there is always something ripe. Annuals are mixed with perennials.

To summarize, the vegetables growing on the roof  of ' Zuidpark ' is a success.

On one hand there now exists the positive effects on the environmental conditions mentioned: In what was once a rooftop desert there are now plants - even if only on parts of the roof - supporting humidification and retention of rain water. There are also the positive effects of urban farming ascreating urban food production close to home, thus avoiding long transport distances and fresh fruits and vegetables can come straight to the table. Organic production also makes the employees aware of a sustainable and ecological basis of everyday life. On the other hand one must mention the social and economic impact: The vegetables roof has given the office block Zuidpark to a "name.". It has contributed positively to the quality of working conditions of the emplyees and it is supporting the communication between employees and between enterprises based there. Result: full rental in a situation of extended vacancy in the bureau property sector. An example worth following!

Location: Zuidpark, Spaklerweg 52, Amsterdam
Owner: Zuidpark,  Spaklerweg 52, Amsterdam
Design and renovation: Archicom, Eindhoven
Design of the vegetable roof: Biet & Boon, Amsterdam
Completion: June 2012




Fotos: Helga Fassbinder