Ranking among the top exporters of agricultural products across the globe, the Netherlands exported nearly $100 billion in agricultural goods in the year 2017, and $10 billion in agricultural products. This is because the Netherlands calls upon building design innovation to reconceptualise the agricultural landscape.

The results to this approach are both fruitful and beautiful. As captured in Tom Hegen’s The Greenhouse Series, Dutch farmlands brim with expansive greenhouses, some consisting of 175 acres, especially in the rural lands of South Holland. The country features 36 square miles of greenhouses, an area 56% more sizable than Manhattan.

In Westland, called Netherlands’ greenhouse capital by National Geographic, greenhouses are instilled in the landscape, creating needed greenspace amongst all of the metropolitan and industrial concrete—which the magazine noted resembles vast and radiant mirrors of the sun and moon.

Within these greenhouses, technologically advanced farmers call upon hydroponic systems and geothermal energy to create unparalleled yields using limited resources. Dutch greenhouses utilise 1.1 gallons of water per pound of tomatoes grown, as opposed to the 25.6-gallon global average, with certain farmers producing more than 100 million tomatoes annually from 14 hectares of land. This is facilitated through the use of a controlled indoor environment, where exact, dependable temperatures and humidities are coupled with the reduced threat of contamination and no pesticides.

The environmental quality of the greenhouses is reinforced through informed design choices. Double-glazed roofs permit for heat retention, while light modular steel frames facilitate quick expansion and adaption, without hindering natural light. Operators like Duijvestijn Tomatoes are even more revolutionary, with CO2 derived from a local Shell oil refinery piped into the greenhouses to facilitate plant growth, while LED lights nurture the growth of the plants to continue growing during the night. As Hegen points out, Dutch legislation dictates that 98% of electric lighting must be sealed within the greenhouses with the use of blackout screens and curtains, so as to provide protection against light pollution.

These buildings claim their foundations in policies and concepts. In the early 2000s, the Dutch committed to a fresh variety of sustainable agriculture that eliminated the use of chemical pesticides in greenhouses, and a decrease in antibiotics by 60% since the year of 2009. Impelling this innovation is the region’s Wageningen University & Research (WUR), an institution called one of the globe’s leading researchers in farming. As new techniques and concepts emerge regarding the nourishment of ever-growing urban populations, rural areas such as those discovered in the Netherlands will develop and adapt in response, becoming more technological and actually less natural ‘in nature’.

This design shift will continue to quicken, as urban population growth demands the change. By the year 2050, the world population will be 10 billion, an increase from 7.8 billion today. Resulting will be a demand for more intense agricultural yields, utilising less water, less energy, and less land. The Netherlands offers one take on how architectural typologies will become apparent in the changing relationships between city and country, and the dynamic between food and urbanism.

As the building design profession aims to keep up with the fast rate of technological growth, which continues to morph the design and construction process, building designers may be summoned to reimagine new methods of formulating efficient, contextual, integrated structures for the future of farming.