News - June 28, 2018

Blog: Now that the deadline is rapidly approaching, the alarm bells have started to ring

Lotje Hogerzeil

Lotje Hogerzeil (25), MSc Urban Systems Engineering, blogs about her participation in the Student Challenge of 2018: Design the Ultimate Sustainable Urban Greenhouse. She retreats at the virtual spa that is her mother, because: stress.

© Sven Menschel

I am sitting with my mother in the garden on the farm. She is putting together a scrapbook for my grandmother, pumping me full of coffee and juice, and updating me on the spoils of the vegetable garden whenever I feel like hearing about it. It is the second week in a row that I have allowed myself to relish the weekend and I need it. In just five short weeks it will be time: we submit our design on 25 July. The deadline is getting closer and I can feel it. I need my weekend to refuel and the virtual spa that is my mother is a breath of fresh air.

Last week, when I came knocking to experience this total rest and relaxation, I was a bit panicked. Of course, we have been aware of what the assignment was for nine months, but now that the deadline is rapidly approaching and I am checking the criteria every day, the alarm bells have started to ring. If you are wondering why, we were asked to submit a complete architectural design for a greenhouse or trendy hub for urban agriculture which is to serve as an educational epicentre for healthy living in a former prison tower. An entire plant production system will be incorporated into the design and has been worked out in detail, down to the choice of substrate. If you have a little extra time, toss in a plan for circular energy and water, waste, nutrient, and CO2 streams. All of this is guided by a roadmap for social acceptance of the entire design and, as a cherry on top, a three-year business plan (For whose business? The dozens of businesses soon to settle into the Green Tower?). In a 20-page report, please and thank you.

The challenge is actually just one large thought experiment, a puzzle that has spun out of control

The theme of the first weekend at my mother’s was 'panic and crisis around every corner'. Now, during spa weekend number two, that chaos has given way to reflection. The other 22 teams are struggling with the countless criteria, too. Just like us, they are not specialised consulting firms that have two years to spend thinking solely about a closed loop of organic waste at the Bijlmerbajes (a former Dutch prison). It is likely that none of the things we come up with will be implemented. In the meantime, we have learned from our partners at a certain energy company - which shall remain nameless - that even more work is being done by full-time professionals on plans that no longer meet the criteria for our challenge, which was organised in November. The challenge is actually just one large thought experiment, a puzzle that has spun out of control, which we have the pleasure of solving using a grant from the university.

While my mother makes my favourite food for me (with lettuce from the garden and not grown in some container with pink light and drip irrigation), I think about tomorrow. My ACT week begins again at 08.30. Many Master’s students despise this course because it is so intensive, because the attendance policy feels a bit like grade school and, most of all, because it is a pressure cooker that requires you to deliver a product within eight weeks. I secretly feel like doing it again. It is well laid out for you, clearly defined, and on a small scale: no business plan and no competition.

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