Too Futuristic and Unnatural?

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This research takes a speculative design approach to assessing the barrier of unnaturalness in the context of acceptance of urban vertical farming. Vertical farming has the potential to help feed the world’s expanding population in a healthy way, yet the growing conditions in vertical farming, often using fully controlled environments, can be perceived as unnatural and the whole system even as unsustainable. This research project aims to analyze barriers and develop speculative, future scenarios that are intended to provoke thought and discussion on how we could and should live in relation to urban vertical farming and nature. Using a mixed methods approach, seven photo-elicitation interviews with citizens were conducted in addition to three semi-structured discussions with vertical farming experts. The insights were analyzed and used to develop three future scenarios that were visualized using the generative AI program MidJourney. Each of the scenarios presented positive and negative themes to inspire criticism as well as praise in the possible future worlds. The narratives focused mainly on the dynamics of the relationship between urban and rural citizens in imaginary cities. Their immanent ambiguity and perceived distance from reality proved useful in this research, as they allowed for new thoughts and imaginations due to a certain vagueness and lack of physical plausibility. Further research would be needed to explore the possibilities of integrating both vagueness and serendipity into the process of developing design speculations.