Artist Proposes Turning Landmark into Vertical Garden

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An artist in Charlottesville is proposing a novel solution to what many consider a blight on the downtown mall.

Russell Richards says he wants to see the Landmark Hotel property transformed into a vertical garden.

Richards brought his idea before City Council last month, with a picture he designed of a multi-level farming operation. But for the idea to even be considered, the city would need to get ownership of the Landmark from John Dewberry, its current owner.

Richards envisions plywood walls transformed to a thriving market, open concrete housing an enclosed greenhouse. He says it could all be possible, right in downtown Charlottesville. Richards thinks it's the farm of the future, and that there would be many benefits.

"One of the greatest sources of carbon pollution, water pollution, and pollution of the soil is farming and agriculture, and much of it has to do with transporting food and material back and forth,” Richards said. “In this model the food is grown in the heart of the city where it's distributed and eaten.”

Richards' idea isn't new. Vertical gardens like his design exist in places like Chicago and Singapore.

City Councilor Bob Fenwick says he supports the idea, but has his doubts about the structure.

“This is a steel-reinforced concrete building. It can take a lot of abuse, but it was never meant to go through three, four, or five summer-winter freeze-thaw cycles and to put any value you would have to have a structural engineer put a stamp on it and say ‘this building is safe to continue the construction,' and that would be a very, very difficult proposition," Fenwick said.

Richards has now been chosen to speak about his idea at TEDx at the Paramount Theater in November. "It's going to involve a lot more research. Right now I'm really researching hydroponics and aeroponics and greenhouses,” he said.

Fenwick says he thinks the most likely scenario is the building will need to be demolished in the future. But Richards says his talk at TEDx will include further research into how the property and the concept could become a reality.

The building's owner, John Dewberry, has said in the past he has no plans to give up on developing the building.

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