JBA goes underground in food first

JBA is advising Transport for London on a unique project that is set to see food grown on the Underground.

JBA’s specific brief is the design and material specification of a replacement lift within the existing lift shaft at the Clapham North End of the Clapham deep level tunnels. This has an approximate travel of 32m underground, and will serve street level, Sub level-1 and Sub-level 2.

The tunnels and lift will be used by the ZeroCarbonFood company, which plans to grow sustainable greens and salad leaves deep below the busy streets of Clapham. Using the latest hydroponic systems and LED technology they will be able to grow crops in a year-round perfect, pesticide-free environment. Produce will be able to reach wholesalers and local restaurants within four hours of picking.

The lift has to comply with BS9999 for Fire-Fighting Lifts to provide safe access and egress for the staff working in the tunnels. This brings its own specialist set of challenges to the lift brief:

  • The lift is sited within a double helix spiral staircase in a mesh lift shaft and subsequently the entire lift shaft will have to be fire rated to 120mins
  • There needs to be an emergency power unit to provide power in the event of incoming mains supply failure
  • There has to be a robust emergency communication system that can deal with the challenging underground environment.

JBA consultant Mark Bryan says it is one of the most interesting projects he’s been involved with in his career: “The proposition itself – growing things in a subterranean tunnel – seems like something out of science fiction, but it’s exciting to be involved in such a ground-breaking initiative. The environmental and operational demands mean there is absolutely no margin for error in the lift design. We are working closely with Transport for London to ensure that the final specification covers every angle, and provides a firm foundation for what will be a hugely innovative development.”