The next trend in luxury apartments is having personal rooftop farms for residents

Garden Plot Rendering brooklyn farm

The farm-to-table movement is taking hold at a luxury New York City condo complex.

550 Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn now features a 1,600-square-foot rooftop farm for residents and a local restaurateur to grow fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

It’s on the eighth floor terrace of the 18-story brick and concrete building, which opened in early 2017. Construction of the farm began in April.

Condo owners can sign up for plots, measuring 3 feet by 10 feet each, to grow their own produce, Ashley Cotton, EVP of External Affairs at Forest City Ratner Partners, tells Business Insider. The largest farm plot is about 39 feet by 21 feet and is divided by plank walkways.

Ian Rothman, a farmer and co-owner of the farm-to-table restaurant Olmsted, has also reserved a large section of the farm. Rothman will grow hot peppers for the restaurant’s homemade aji dulce sauce there, among other items. Residents can sign up for one-on-one gardening workshops with Olmsted’s staff.

In a joint venture, Greenland USA and Forest City New York are developing the building. Approximately 60% of the condos, which range from $890,000 to $6.8 million, are sold, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

The building includes over 10,000 square feet of other shared amenities, including a library, lounge, dining room, catering kitchen, children’s playroom, and fitness center. It’s part of the $6 billion, 22-acre Pacific Park development, which will include 14 residential buildings with 6,430 apartments when complete in 2025.

The idea for the rooftop farm came from the building’s architects at NYC-based firm Cookfox. When the team began designing 550 Vanderbilt, they wanted to add something that would help residents connect with nature and each other.

“We wanted to incorporate green space in a larger way as a defining feature of the building,” Darin Reynolds, Partner at Cookfox, tells BI.

bk rooftop

Cotton expects the rooftop farmers to grow all types of produce, from tomatoes to carrots to herbs. Compared to growing on the ground, there’s more sunlight when you’re tending to crops on a roof, Rothman tells BI.

“The more sun, the more vegetables you are going to get,” he says.

The building’s garden reflects the larger farm-to-table movement, in which growers supply directly to restaurants or consumers, and the culinary trends of plant-centric, gluten-free diets. In New York, more and more urban farms are popping up in parking lots, rooftops, and in warehouses.

Personal farm rooftops are a slowly growing trend for condos in New York City (especially luxury condos). Two high-priced Manhattan apartment buildings, in Chelsea and NoMad, also feature rooftop gardens (the latter of which was designed by Piet Oudolf, a landscape architect known for his work on the High Line). Another affordable housing development in Queens, called Hunters Point South Commons, has a 660-square-foot garden and apiary.

“New Yorkers are great at maximizing usability of every inch of space, and rooftop farming becomes an extension of that mindset,” says Rebecca Lotka, designer at Terrain NYC, the company that led the terrace’s landscape design.

Unlike most urban farms, the majority of the produce will be eaten by the condo’s residents — who will also be responsible for maintaining the plots. 

Outdoor space is a hot commodity, so residents will pay a premium for it.

“In New York City especially, you don’t find opportunities to garden and commune more closely with nature very easily,” Cotton says. “The plots at 550 Vanderbilt are the closest thing most New Yorkers have to gardening in their own backyard.”

Since the building own the farms, there’s less of a chance that it will end up abandoned like a number of community gardens in NYC. Still, if you can afford a condo in the building, it’s certainly easier to just buy organic kale and cauliflower at Whole Foods.

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Microsoft just invested millions in a startup based on a key Google technology (MSFT)

mark hammond bonsai

Bonsai, an artificial intelligence startup based in Berkeley, California, just announced a new investment of $7.6 million, co-led by Microsoft Ventures and New Enterprise Associates (NEA).

On the surface, this seems pretty normal: Microsoft launched a new fund in December 2016 to invest in AI companies, going hand-in-hand with the tech titan’s corporate focus on incorporating artificial intelligence into all of its products and services. In fact, just today, Microsoft also announced an investment in Agolo, another AI startup. Plus, Bonsai CEO Mark Hammond is himself ex-Microsoft.

What’s notable is that Bonsai’s technology, aimed at helping companies in manufacturing, retail, logistics, and similar more physical markets incorporate artificial intelligence, is based on TensorFlow — a wildly popular tool created at Google for helping build so-called “machine learning” systems, and an alternative to Microsoft’s own CNTK. 

To Hammond’s mind, it shouldn’t be much of a shock. Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft has dedicated itself to supporting whatever technologies developers want to use; Hammond says that Bonsai’s bet on TensorFlow “is not a barrier for them.” In fact, Hammond says, Bonsai and Microsoft share a vision of making AI more accessible to programmers.

“The barrier for them is the objective,” he says. “Microsoft’s vision and messaging match with ours surprisingly well.”

Now, alongside the new capital, Bonsai is announcing an early access program for developers to try out their technology so they can assess for themselves how far the company is to its goal.

The great AI winter

Hammond started his career in earnest at Microsoft, working on Windows 95 and the first-ever version of Internet Explorer. It was there that his interest in AI was first sparked.

But there weren’t many opportunities to pursue that interest — it was right during the “AI winter,” the period where the hype of AI had outpaced the results, and so a frustrated tech industry largely stopped funding research in the field.

“It was a terrible time to do anything in AI, since it was the middle of the AI winter,” he says. 

After Microsoft, he bounced around the country for a while, taking jobs at Yale and a handful of assorted startups and research labs. At one point, he returned to Microsoft for a two-year stint as a developer evangelist.

It was in 2014, while he was working as a researcher, that he noticed that the AI winter was coming to an end. Excitement for AI was coming back, and so was the money. He took the chance, quit his job, and started Bonsai alongside Keen Browne, a friend from his Microsoft days.

It turned out to be a prescient observation, as artificial intelligence is definitely having its moment in the sun once again, with Microsoft, Facebook, Google, Amazon, and many more huge companies making big bets on the technology as key to their business models. To date, Bonsai has raised $13.6 million.

“It was kind of a bet that it was coming down the pipe,” Hammond says. “It was part engineered serendipity, and part luck.”

Learning

Hammond acknowledges that companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are doing good work making artificial intelligence technologies available to developers. But he says that their approaches are pretty limited — you either have to have a Fortune 500 company’s resources to customize the code, or you have to use their pre-packaged, but rigid and inflexible, services around stuff like image recognition. 

“If you’re Google, Facebook, Amazon, that’s fine, you’re okay,” Hammond says. But it’s less than ideal if you’re a company in manufacturing, retail, or anything that involves real-world logistics, where you might not have those same engineering resources, and those pre-packaged services don’t meet your needs.

tesla factory robots

That’s where Bonsai comes in. While many AI systems focus on “machine learning,” or the ability for computers to teach themselves from experience, Hammond says, there’s less focus on so-called “machine teaching.” In other words, these systems are great today at hooking up to databases; less so for connecting to, say, industrial factory robots. 

In that scenario, a factory already has software they’re using to power that robot and its actions, but maybe they want to use AI to optimize its habits for more efficiency. Existing AI tools don’t make it easy to bridge to that kind of software, but it’s kind of Bonsai’s specialty. Programmers can add AI without needing to be a genius PhD. 

“We focus on an underserved part of the spectrum,” says Hammond.

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Electrons losing weight

The measured mass of electrons in solids is always larger than the value predicted by theory. The reason for this is that theoretical calculations do not account properly for various interactions with other electrons or lattice vibrations – that “dress” the electrons. EPFL scientists have now carried out a study on a lithium-containing copper oxide and have found that its electrons are 2.5 times lighter than was predicted by theoretical calculations. The work is published in Physical Review Letters and has made the cover.