Biodiversity Loss & Interior Design

Apartment Agriculture
by Cheryl Barr

By 2030, earth's population will be made up of 8.5 billion people, with 60% living in cities.

Higher populations and increased urbanization are resource-intensive in terms of energy, water, and food systems. Because agriculture and urbanization are two of the main drivers behind biodiversity loss, this trend also poses a serious challenge towards a path toward sustainability.

However, High Density Urban Housing (Apartments) can also be a part of the solution. The integration of urban agriculture throughout apartment buildings can provide opportunities to bolster and support local biodiversity, ease pressure on local food networks, and can free up agricultural land for habitat restoration efforts.

Because individual apartment dwellers have limited space, time, and aesthetic requirements for incorporating plans and nature into their spaces, integrating systems to support biodiversity is partially an interior design challenge.
Vertical Garden Wall of an apartment in Kochi, India.
Image via

How can we design apartment interiors to help in the prevention of biodiversity loss?

Biodiversity is defined as the variety of species found in an area- including plants, animals, insects, fungi and micro-organisms. Biodiversity loss, on the other hand, is the decline of number of species, either in localized regions or on a larger global scale scale.(What is biodiversity and why is it under threat?) Recent reports show alarming trends regarding biodiversity loss, with evidence pointing to severe declines in terrestrial and marine specie diversity as well as populations. The biggest driver of biodiversity loss is attributed to land-use change, mainly conversion of pristine habitats for agricultural use. (Living Planet Report 2020 | Publications | WWF).

So how can we use interior design to support biodiversity in high density urban housing? First- by designing interiors that incorporate systems to grow food and plants into our apartments- and two- by using balconies to create green spaces and wildlife corridors for local species.

Decrease in vertebrate species (2020 Global LPI)
Species are threatened (2020 Global LPI)
Worlds Habitable land used for agriculture (

Why do we need more apartment agriculture?

Designing interiors to grow food and support biodiversity is not a luxury for the rich. It is a solution that is urgently needed- not just because of increasing urban populations, but because our current systems are pushing our planetary boundaries to the limit.

What are planetary boundaries? In order to examine the effect of human activities on ecosystems change, the concept of Planetary Boundaries was introduced in 2009 by a group of environmental scientists. The paper aimed to identify and define the “safe operating limits of humanity” in regards to earth within 9 critical earth systems. Of the 9 systems identified, the model ascertains that we’ve already exceeded our “safe operating boundaries”” in at least 3 areas, including the rate of biodiversity loss, the nitrogen cycle due to agriculture, and climate change, with several more systems at risk (Rockström et al., 2013). 

A vertical forest design in Montreal, Canada.
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Could cities become biodiversity "hotspots" in the future?

Interestingly enough, urban environments provide a unique opportunity to support biodiversity and have actually been shown to be biodiverse hotspots due to an increased concentration of a variety of native and non-native species brought in by urban dwellers.

One such example can be seen by a study of the correlation between human populations in Berlin and increase of naturalized species. (Schewenius, 2013)

The Garden Room, an apartment outside Mumbai, India.
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What are parameters and limitations of apartment agriculture?

Apartment agriculture, also sometimes called urban agriculture, urban homesteading, or urban gardening, is a general term that refers to cultivating plants and animals in a city setting. The key distinction between these terms and the term “urban farm” is that urban farms are typically set up for larger scale, for-profit production, while apartment agriculture typically refers to individual and small scale production meant for personal consumption. Apartment agriculture can encompass species that provide a variety of functions and ecosystem services such as plants used for food, medicine, and fibers for making other goods, insects for food or dyes, or animals used for their bi-products, such as bees for honey, or fertilizer made by fish or worms.

The biggest limitations to integrate apartment agriculture into interiors are space, water or energy usage, compatibility of organic materials in interiors, and aesthetic considerations. All systems need a source of water and light- which need to be supplemented artificially in apartments that don’t receive much sunlight or water in the form of rain. Also maintaining organic systems requires a medium such as soil, clay pebbles, water, or other substance, which needs to be managed carefully to avoid harmful bacteria or attracting undesired pests. Last but not least managing humidity is important for plants but requires monitoring to avoid growing molds. 

Interior Design Solutions for Apartment Agriculture

Green House by Yang Mingjie, YANG DESlGN, Beijing

Artificial Grow systems

Artificial and smart grow systems create a simulated optimal environment for plant growth. Usually, they include a light source, nutrients, water, and growing systems. Grow lights need to emit specific wave-lengths of light to help plants synthesize. Advances in LED grow lights have made these very energy efficient, and when paired with a general renewable power source like solar panels, can be a carbon neutral system.

Hydroponic systems are systems that do not use soil but rather, plants are grown in water. Plants grown hydroponically grow 20% faster than their soil grown counterparts and produce higher yields per area ( Aeroponic systems are similar in that grow plants without soil, “in air”, using a nutrient-dense mist to grow plants.

Aquaponics is another system that combines grow systems with aquariums to mimic the nutrient cycle of aquatic ecosystems. The waste from the fish turns into food and nutrients for the plants, and the biomass from plants support smaller organism that feed the fish.
Aquariums for aquaponic systems combined with plant growing systems are attractive options for interiors due to their efficiency and aesthetically pleasing aspects.
All these systems can be combined with smart monitoring technology for optimal light, temperature, and water usage. Most of these systems provide dual functions with growing food via providing a light source, environmental improvements, and aesthetics.
Image via

Vertical Gardens

Vertical Gardens are a great solution for apartment agriculture in homes that are limited in space. They create an aesthetically pleasing natural green wall that increases the wellbeing of the apartment dwellers. Vertical gardens designed into kitchen interiors can serve to grow a variety of herbs and culinary plants. Vertical gardens on balconies can support a large number of climbing and hanging plants. Vertical gardens designed into living rooms can help filter air and improve indoor air quality.

Example of Worm Compost Bin. Image via FCP Outdoor

Vermiculture Bins

Vermiculture is the process of turning organic matter into a nutrient-rich compost using worms. Due to it’s small space requirements and fast turn-around time of breaking down organic waste, unlike traditional compost, it’s a great solution for apartments. This multi-layer system is simple to set up and maintain, but for the worms to  thrive they need a certain amount of food and moisture input, and minimal light. Their output is a nutrient rich “tea” and worm casings that can be used to fertilize plants.

Current vermiculture systems are focused primarily on functionality, making it unappealing for aesthetically oriented people to integrate it into their apartment interiors. Some potential interior design solutions could involve building these into kitchen islands or designs, or creating furniture incorporating these products.

A balcony food forest in the netherlands. Image via

Biodiverse Balconies

Balconies present a unique opportunity for urban residents, not just to house a variety of plants to grow food, but also to support local pollinators. Balconies full of wildflowers can provide food to bees and birds. Even small balconies can support a large variety of plants for food and medicine, and when designed for efficiency, can also be used for bee-keeping. Some futuristic green buildings are incorporating fruit trees into their balcony systems to create vertical food forests that support resident and local animal and bird species.

Because balconies are one of the few private outdoor green spaces that urban populations have access to, it’s also important that these spaces are designed with an eye turned toward aesthetic and functional considerations. Choosing the right fixtures and furniture to increase space available for growing is a paramount interior design decision.

Apartment Agriculture is a key player in preventing biodiversity loss.

Apartment Agriculture is beneficial in urban settings by providing opportunities for self-sufficiency to people with limited access to land. It also has the potential to create a local food network that eases dependency on large-scale industrial agriculture. It has the potential of creating biodiversity hotspots by creating habitats and wildlife corridors in cities that foster and support diverse species of plants and animals in a small, concentrated area. Last but not least, focusing on and supporting sustainable development and agriculture within cities has the potential to free up the world’s land-use for habitat restoration and “rewilding” efforts, protecting natural biodiversity.



Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture (no date) Our World in Data. Available at: (Accessed: 2 July 2022).

Hydroponic Systems: How They Work and How To Build Your Own (no date) Epic Gardening. Available at: (Accessed: 6 July 2022).

Living Planet Report 2020 | Publications | WWF (no date). Available at: (Accessed: 4 July 2022).

Population2030. Available at: (Accessed: 5 July 2022).

Rockström, Johan, et al. Sustainable Development and Planetary Boundaries. Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2013,

Schewenius, M. (2013) ‘Urbanization, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Challenges and Opportunities || Patterns and Trends in Urban Biodiversity and Landscape Design’. Available at: (Accessed: 5 July 2022).

What is biodiversity and why is it under threat? (no date) World Wildlife Fund. Available at: (Accessed: 2 July 2022).