Research Finbarr McComb Stereo Architects Rotterdam

24 May

Wheatfield by Agnes Denes, New York, 1982

Wheatfield by Agnes Denes, New York, 1982

This is not a Photoshopped image. The image actually shows a cornfield in the middle of Manhattan, an art project consisting of a temporary 4-acre urban farm on a New York landfill, right where Battery Park now lies. While it was originally meant as a confrontation to urban culture, I think the idea is still usefull today as a reference for how it can enhance the city. Maybe the future of the city could be as simple as starting a farm there.

Do you know where your taco comes from? by Rebar, 2010

The reason I bring up the image is twofold. On the one hand the issue of sustainability asks us to rethink how our cities work, in terms of energy-use, infrastructure and food supplies. Urban farming is at least an answer to some of these questions. For example, by raising crops directly where they are consumed, energy costs for transportation disappear. On the other hand, reclaiming the ground of the city and using it as farmland instead of a location for real estate can uplift the relation between the city and its inhabitants.

Still form Our Daily Bread, Nikolaus Geyrhalter

Still form Our Daily Bread by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, 2005

It may not all be that simple, though. The image of agriculture as a ‘pure’ natural force against modernity is too simplistic to be true. By now farming has become just as rationalised as industry. Ironically enough, this may just be what could help introduce farming into the city.

Indoor plant facory, Pasona O2, Tokyo

Indoor plant facory Pasona O2, Tokyo

Today, many projects that try to introduce urban farming rely heavily upon technological developments in order to make it work – such as vertival farms with 30+ stacked layers of farmland. Here‘s an example.

Vertical Farm, Atelier SoA, 2005

Vertical Farm by Atelier SoA, 2005

On the other hand, some smaller projects deliver a different promise, that is impossible to realise in large-scale projects aimed at maximum efficiency. Agriculture can enhance urban culture by involving inhabitants is a sustainable way of life. This means that the projects should be small-scale, easily accessible and fit into the urban context. A good example is Work AC’s project the Edible Schoolyard, in which children learn about sustainability by working / playing in their own schoolyard farm. More information here.

Edible Schoolyard, Work AC, 2010

Edible Schoolyard by Work AC, 2010

So, there is a tension between large scale, effiencient urban agriculture and the small scale qualities of urban farms. Both provide a most effective answer at a certain level: producing food at the least cost for city and involving the community are both desirable. The question then is what kind of strategy will provide the most benefit for cities on both counts, efficiently producing food without sealling itself of from the city in hermetic bio-controlled environments, or degrading in a naive representation of farming without bringing in the goods. Is there a half-way point, a mix or is a new solution asked for? What does it mean for the city as a whole? These are the kinds of questions we want to delve into in our research and design.

Farmadelphia by Front Studio, 2007

Finbarr McComb

Stereo Architects


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