A (Re)emerging concept in Architecture ?

This chapter attempts to address the following questions in order to understand the underlying drivers behind the current re-emergence of the concept urban agriculture within Architecture and Urbanism as a means of increase self reliance and reconnecting between the city and the land. Charting the lineage of what literature review identified as a re-occurring theme since the late industrial revolution aims to provoke questions about the longevity and integrity of the current re-emergence.

 Michael_Collins_Image 001 for image Library

Graphical Analysis 1

Graphical analysis 1 attempts to plot emergent and re-emergent theories of the concept from the 19th,20th and early 21st century on a timeline against key historical drivers, and movements. This is paralleled by the diminishing relationship between the European City and food production.[1] The timeline is expanded over the last 30years to show in detail the emergence of the urban agriculture movement in parallel with cultural shifts potentially influencing current architectural approaches. The chart aims to form a key point of cross-reference throughout this study and assist development ‘drivers’ for speculative design studies. Analysis 1 indicates the concept has a enjoyed a long history within architectural discourse, appearing on the timeline as a recurring theme.

Late 19th and early 20th Century Models by Howard, Garnier and Wright, sought self-sufficiency for the urban dweller proposing generic ‘functional’ Utopias in the form of land use models aimed at catering for the economic needs of an increasingly industrialised and modernising society. Some generic models form diagrams, simultaneously celebrating the advancements of the modern industrial age of capitalism but also forming a critique of what the city has become.

Some emergent early 20th Century proposals incorporating the concept of urban agriculture could be compared to the ‘St Gall plan’ (Figure 9), one of the earliest recorded[2] examples of a generic ‘functionalist’ Utopia, proposed in the feudal era prior to the rise of a mercantile society in Europe. Similarly to Ebenezer Howard’s and Frank Lloyd Wright’s proposals, (Figures 10-11) the generic St Gall plan, thought to be by Bishop Haito,[3] purposefully integrated food production as a key component into the design of monastic settlements in Switzerland. The design aimed to create a vision for an ordered Christian self-sufficient city “an attempt to recreate heavenly Jerusalem on earth.”[4] It offered a model of closed self sufficiency similarly to many medieval settlements, but with a diagrammatic architectural form derived from the process of food production, which sought to be a generic solution for the church to use throughout Western Europe.[5]The design can be seen as heightening the symbiotic relationship with nature and food in that the temporal processes of growth, working the land, harvest and process would run in parallel with the regimented rhythm of monastic life, both overlapping at key points in the day and in the plan.

Fig 9St Gall Plan                                             Fig 10 Broadacre                                             Fig 11 The ‘Garden city’


Analysis 1 indicates that since the industrial revolution the concept of Urban Agriculture in urbanism involved generic blueprints seeking to organise not only land use and space but also suggest similar interconnected rythms of use within their diagrammatic form. Waldheim (2010) argues that there is a common “coherent genealogy”[6] between projects incorporating this theme. Analysis identified 4 main patterns of emergence, re-emergence and milestones involving the concept of urban agriculture within architecture and urbanism over the last 150 years. Analysis indicates that these are not clearly separated but visible as clusters. These patterns identified occurred in:

1. The later half of the 19th century: at the peak of the industrial revolution in Europe when the historic city bounded by concentric rings of agriculture upon which the city relied; was liberated by increased mechanisation and the modern railway.[7]

2. The early 20th century: An period of increasing global trade and import of food, agricultural densification, but also major systemic shocks as a result of wars, economic collapse and drought.

3. The 1960-70s: A time of peaking urbanisation in Europe and the UK, and the birth of mass car transport, and the growing dominance of the supermarket.

4. The early 21st Century:[8]  A period when “the worlds industrialised nations now effectively represent one enormous city; the rest of the world their rural hinterland,”[9]

and the world faces looming unprecedented energy and resource crisis. A period where food imports are at their highest level and from the furthest distances, global agribusiness and technological advancements such as GM have revolutionised food production. However in parallel there is increased mainstream public and political environmental interest in urban food production.

Full written analysis of the timeline indicated in analysis 1 is located in Appendix 2, where the motivations of emergent approaches to urban agriculture in architecture are discussed fully.


Analysis 1 identified that over the last 150 years the theme of amalgamating food production with Architecture has taken many guises, motivated by multiple and more recently increasingly contradictory factors. At each stage the concept of food production has been a vital component, (although arguably secondary to an underlying ambition of empowerment of the city through liberation by technology). The concept has been adapted to suit the cultural and political context of the time.  The increasing emergence of the concept of Urban agriculture in Architecture as a result is illustrated (analysis 1) by exponentially increasing numbers of architectural exhibitions and publications regarding the theme since the year 2000.  Analysis 1 identified three main themes throughout the emergence and re-emergence of the concept of urban agriculture within architecture and urbanism, these are as follows:

Technological Liberation: Reactive opposition verses celebration of modernity  

Graphical analysis one, two and three suggest a common thread of seeking independence and therefore liberation from the constraints of the traditional city and its overarching political and economic systems. New technological advancements are embraced to either critique the modern city or celebrate and enhance its efficiency. Emergent urban approaches used radical land use reform with food production as a key (but often secondary) tool to surpass perceived physical limitations and inequalities of the then contemporary city. This is seen at Fourier’s Phalastere where it was a means of supporting and isolating a radically liberal society. Such liberation involves celebration of large scale civic industrial and technological advancement to achieve greater communal efficiency seen in proposals by Garnier, Hilbersheimer, and Branzi.


Figure 14 Hilbersheimers New Regional pattern         Figure 15 Kurokawa’s farm city

Projects embracing modernity rather than as critique such as the linear industrial settlements by Hilbersheimer and Garnier (Appendix 1), sought to further the real economic and cultural objectives of the machine age without the ‘utopian’[10] rhetoric of their contemporaries. Agriculture was incorporated as a ‘greening’ of the city, a tool for the city but also an ordering principle.[11] Japanese architect Kurokawa’s futuristic farm city combined the ideals and form of traditional Japanese settlements with the new language of a hi-tech infrastructure which floated over the landscape. However in contrast the concept of urban agriculture has also diverged towards proposed agrarian ideals as a reaction toward perceived political or economic instability and disparity attributed to political changes, occurring at times of crisis.

Examples include Howard’s “Garden City of Tomorrow” seeking a diagram of decentralisation and sovereignty, and a detailed land use policy governing tenure. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonia was born out of ‘patriotic’ land reform involving  “integration..rather than speculation[12] facilitated by an interconnected matrix of transportation links and small-holdings,” in response to the great 1930s depression promoting visions of a more progressive urbanism from a “critical position that considered economy and social justice,”[13] in short re-design of a new society. To achieve this many of the examples from the late 19th and early 20th century embraced  technological advancements (in the case of Wright, the car), to aspired toward what Waldheim coins “agrarian urbanism[14]”, seeking to “reconcile the contradictory impulses of the industrial metropolis with the social and cultural conditions of the agrarian settlement.”[15] A dissatisfaction with capitalism arguably also inspired Corbusiers Ville radieuse,[16] which contrasted with the individualistic nature of ‘Broadacre’, establishing a socialist dimension through reliance on shared amenities. Arguably comparible to Fouriers ‘Phalanstere’ as an enlightened and ‘liberal’ utopia.[17]

Buckminster fuller occupies a unique position in the 3rd emergence of the concept of urban agriculture in architecture, proposing temporary and flexible living solutions aimed toward increased local self sufficiency[18]. Contrastingly Fuller engages with the notion of the global ‘architecture’ of food production to cities, White (2010) argues that Fuller considered  urban land use with a holistic perspective of production not seen again in the history of the concept. This is seen from a theoretical perspective in ‘The World game’[19]. Fuller proposed a global network of interconnected ‘resource terrains’, “the apoethesis of nature and network”[20] which in turn could give form to emergent urbanism. This was an extreme form of top down but arguably not ‘Utopian’ planning, which used technology to deal with the then present reality of global crisis at a global level rather than a siege mentality towards localised food production driving urban form.

world game

Figure 16 Buckminster Fuller; The World Game

The theme of using technology to promote self reliance to liberate the individual as a societal critique, or alternatively to further the current economic system of the city has oscillated between proposals since the early 20th century. Koolhaas argues the present coexistence of “Advancement Vs Apocalypse” [21] persists within the current environmental drive within design. Current proposals arguably also follow the theme of embracing technology seen through the emergence of vertical farming incorporating hydroponic technologies inherited from global agribusiness.



Utopian[22] re-invention of the city

Analysis 1 and Appendix 1 indicate that 19th and 20th Century planned urban agriculture involved mega-scale frameworks to re-invent the city rather than intervention within the existing economic or physical constraints of the city, raising questions of scale and grain in relation to land use within contemporary cities in Europe, now that the large scale post war modernist planning is over. Utopian proposals also incorporate the rhetoric of their authors also forming blueprints for social engineering as well as physical reform, examples include the land stewardship of Howard’s garden city, and the planned daily routines of the inhabitants of Ville Radieuse[23] akin to the monastic rythms of the St Gall Plan. Steel (2009) argues that ‘utopia’ “asks what an ideal society, unfettered by constraints of the real world might be like.”[24] Howard acknowledges in Garden Cities for Tomorrow that the “chief cause of failure for such proposals in the past was human nature,”[25] something Howard fell victim to when planning Letchworth.[26] Arguably Broadacre and Ville Radieuse[27] despite their sustainable intentions also fell victim to the economic and social reality of the industrial city. Broadacre as a sustainable land use model was misinterpreted as its antithesis; middle class suburbs for the privileged[28]. Howard quoted that proposing a successful scheme was designing a new machine with parts from an old machine in existence rather than a new machine requiring new parts to be painstakingly forged. This outlines the dilemma with the concept of urban agriculture in architecture, food growth and production is related to basic human needs, and driven by our behaviour[29], proposals are required which work within existing social, cultural and economic systems allowing for gradual evolution rather than massive societal change. As Bruce Mau (2005) argues a celebration of our global capacities for change but acknowledgement of our limitations, which “encompass the utopian and dystopian possibilities where even nature is no longer outside the reach of our manipulation.”[30]

Bottom up VS Top down 

Analysis 3 indicates the emerging concept of urban agriculture in urban design involved ‘top-down’ frameworks, filtering down to land tenure. Arguably Broadacre however is both a top-down framework, defining a finer grain of 1 acre plots allowing settlements to go ‘off grid.’ Similarly Archigram (Analysis 1) proposes an ambiguous device (the electronic tomato) a food shopping accessory, which through its multiplicity of uses liberates the user on an individual level akin to a modern day ‘Ipod’ which also operates within the context of the globally connected world, suggesting a hybrid ‘architectural’ approach, again both a ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ strategy. Peter Cook (2009) argues that the self led and the temporary are a liberating contrast to the concept of the ‘masterplan’ adopted by Architects[31]. Manaugh (2009) argues that this approach provides both social and spatial liberation; “flexible but on a truly global scale through more flexible design.[32]

In order to analyse the implications of current approaches  for land use in the contemporary city, chapter 3 will attempt to determine if current paradigms of Urban food production are ‘bottom-up’ aligned at the level of the liberated individual or top down planned by higher authority.





Summary of Patterns of Emergence – Advancement – Systemic shock  – Contradiction  

Arguably the concept of urban agriculture in architecture has emerged and re-emerged in architecture over the last 150 years with multiple drivers which appear to feed off each other in cyclical fashion. Analysis 1 and Appendix 3 indicates that emerging approaches were arguably motivated by a desire to use land organisation to cleanse and ‘civilise’ the industrial city, seeking a “physical and symbiotic connection to the soil, for urban dwellers who had severed connection to the ground.” [33] The early 20th century re-emergence involved a shift toward a sense of greater self reliance and a return to the agrarian in the face of large scale systemic shocks and political upheaval. Late 20th century emergence also responded to the immediacy of crisis however at a grass roots level. Arguably each re-emergence arrived with additional characteristics related to each era but still retained the lineage of previous proposals. Analysis 1 suggests that since the 1980s growing interest in the environmental movement[34], the concept in architecture has emerged alongside the urban agricultural movement itself with an increasingly emergent emphasis on smaller scale self-led proposals. Steel (2009) argues that a gap was formed between the late 20th century emergence and the current resurgence in interest in Urban food by the market economy of the 70s and 80s.[35]  Koolhaas (2010) similarly argues that this break within the architectural and design disciplines “devastated the accumulated knowledge base”.[36]

Analysis suggests that the current re-emergence of the concept of urban agriculture in design discourse within the developed ‘North’ is subject to multiple motivations, such as the increasingly mainstream nature of the environmental movement and “increased environmental literacy,” in parallel to energy and food supply crisis.[37] Despommier (2010) argues that this will require an additional land area the size of Brazil,[38] as a result of the rapid increase in urban areas. Other drivers could include the requirement to reduce carbon emissions[39] and recent fluctuations in food prices combined with the economic crisis, perhaps leading to a desire in the developed world for greater self reliance.[40] However arguably this is also a time that societies in the developed ‘north’ are undergoing gradual cultural change in relation to food and the environment.[41] Wiles (2009) suggest that; “something unbelievable has happened, farming has become fashionable, but only if you’re doing it in the middle of a city.[42][43] Currently 15.5 million people are now involved in growing their own produce in the UK.[44][45]

These diverse motivations arguably result in the proliferation of an equally diverging field of often conflicting ideas within architectural discourse. Such ongoing contradictions of the contemporary city are arguably also at odds with those of architectural proposals involving urban agriculture as will be discussed in chapters 3 and 4. Although Waldeheim (2010) argues about a lineage throughout the concept of urban agriculture within design, this analysis suggests that this has involved emergence, re-emergence and currently a divergence branching as a result of shifting motivations. Common threads which persisted during the 20th century included the use of agriculture for the ‘greening’ of cities to sustain the capitalist model of the contemporary city through increased efficiency and density, also motivations to reconnect the city dweller to agriculture. Early proposals such as Howard and Le Corbusier were arguably similarly motivated, but ironically retained the traditional separation, exiled to the outer rings of Howard’s plan and well below the hermetically sealed interior of the Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse. Current models will be analysed in the next chapter to determine whether this contradiction persists today .

[1] Documented by Steel (2009)[1] ,Tomkins (2005)[1] and Viljoen (2005)[1] Summarised in Appendix 1.[1]

[2] 9th Century

[3] Steel C. Hungry City, How food shapes our lives , London 2009  p294 pp1

[4] Ibid

[6] White M, Przyblyski M, Brackett : On Farming, Waldheim C: Notes toward a History of agrarian urbanism, ­ ACTAR Barcelona 2010 P19 PP1,

[7] Steel C. Hungry City, How food shapes our lives , London 2009, P90, PP1

[8] The 4 main re-occurrences identified relate to literature review of selected sources, not exhaustive of other related disciplines. Other examples of the concept of Urban food were identified in fields such as landscape architecture, and planning which could arguably constitute other additional emergences, additional research in the area of parallel practices warrants additional study outwith the scope of this investigation which focuses on architectural examples.

[9] Steel C. Hungry City, How food shapes our lives , London 2009, P 94

[10] Utopian theme discussed in next section

[11] Waldeheim – Brackett – P20 pp2

[12] FLW quote AJ

[17] Phalanstere in response to the Parisian food shortages[17] of the 19th century, and overcrowding of cities.

[18] Contributing to the whole earth catalogue

[19] White M. The Productive Surface, Brackett page 100, PP6

[20] Koolhaas, Advancement VS Apocalypse, Ecological Urbanism p65, pp2

[21] Koolhaas, Advancement VS Apocalypse, Ecological Urbanism p56, pp1

[22] [22] ‘Utopia’ as described by Steel (2009) Hungry City,  page 291, and Carey J. The Faber Book of Utopias,  Faber and Faber; New edition edition (18 Sep 2000) define Utopian as meaning ‘no place’ or ‘good place.’ Within the context of this argument this definition refers to projects which propose ideal scenarios where social, economic and environmental needs are met harmoniously though a given strategy. Sir Thomas Mores Utopia describes a vision of London, fallen from its implied imbalanced nature to become an agrarian paradise where equality prevails Ref: More’s Utopia: The English Translation thereof by Raphe Robynson. second edition, 1556

[23] Ville radieuse daily routines

[24] Steel C. Hungry City, How food shapes our lives , London 2009 page 291 PP2

[25] Garden Cities for tomorrow, Howard

[26] Despite the well intentioned management system Howard proposed, during its realisation at Letchworth the co-operative agriculture element and central concept of self sufficiency was omitted by developers.

[27] Le Corbusier’s densification of the city allowing space for a green life source to be located around the towers was substituted for buildings providing increased density.

[28] Steel C. Hungry City, How food shapes our lives , London 2009, P303

[30] http://www.massivechange.com/about – Last Accessed 06/04/11

[31] Manaugh, The BLDG BLOG Book, 2009, P28

[32] Manaugh, The BLDG BLOG Book, 2009, P26

[33] Imbert, Aux Fermes, Citoyens!, Ecological Urbanism, Mostafavi, Moshen, P261

[34] As a result of the 1970s oil crisis

[35] Steel Market economy 80s forgetting urban food

[36] Koolhaas, Apocalypse or advancement, Ecological Urbanism. P65, PP4

[37] The crisis motivating and form the justification for most projects include global population increases in cities 80% by 2050, tipping point (50% of world inhabitants in cities) occurred in the midst of the most fertile resurgence of the concept in 2007

[38] http://www.verticalfarm.com/more?essay1, – Last accessed 21/03/11

[39]  2006 stern report outlining the requirements to reduce carbon emissions by 2020 before the ‘tipping point’ for climatic change. last accessed 13/03/2011

[41] Analysis 1 indicates the media interest in ‘gardening’ and ‘food’ has increased rapidly over the last 15 years.

[42] Wiles, William, Icon, June 2009, Issue 072 Down on the urban farm, P70, pp2

[43] However this new ‘zeitgeist’ is arguably not a dramatic shift as argues by Wiles (2009), arguably the real momentum behind the recent resurgence in the concept of urban food has been growing slowly since the beginning of the environmental movement, seen through the increased popularity of urban agriculture, which has gradually made its way into the mainstream.

[44] Wiles, William, Icon, June 2009, Issue 072 Down on the urban farm, P70, pp1

[45] The exact extent to which this has effected design disciplines in relation to the organic food movement and the ‘locavore’[45] movement promoting localised food self sufficiency requires further research.


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