How can urban food production intervene within current land use patterns in the Northern European city ? An Analysis of emerging theories of Urban Agriculture in Architectural discourse, with a focus on the city of Edinburgh :


This architectural thesis is concerned with the concept of ‘Urban Agriculture’ and it’s amalgamation within Architectural discourse as a design tool within (primarily European) cities and buildings of the developed ‘North.’[1] Literature review indicated that the concept of Architecture and urbanism which aims to incorporate agriculture, in particular food production as a key aspect of its design has had a long history within architectural discourse, re-emerging and evolving since the industrial revolution, remaining as part of an ongoing discussion regarding our relationship between human settlement and the wider landscape. The current ‘urban food’ ‘zeitgeist’ has extended to include a role for Architecture and Urbanism in its implementation within the city. Analysis indicated that currently there are several motivations for the concept in architectural discourse; environmental drivers aimed toward improving current food security, but also cultural shifts in relation to the wider food system in the ‘developed north’ which aim to re-connect cities with food. The varying motivations will form the starting point for the study to determine the implications for the city.The investigation will focus on the application of urban agriculture specifically within architectural design and theory, as an attempt to determine what the implications are for the city when applying characteristics of current dominant theories in relation to current land use patterns within the developed city.

Through the above research this thesis identified incompatibilities and contradictions inherent within the paradigm of Urban Agriculture in architectural discourse. This study questions if architectural proposals can intervene within current land use patterns rather than as a form of futuristic reinvention of the city. Other findings suggest a disjunction between current proposals and the current society in which we live, suggesting the current architectural trajectory is a by-product of the current contradictions inherent within our western relationship to food.

Through identification and analysis of current dominant models and theories in relation to land use, and using the city of Edinburgh as an example for spatial analysis of such models. The resultant design studies aimed to speculate at a strategic level about the opportunities for food production latent in the current land use patterns on the periphery, within Urban voids, and alongside contemporary development in de-industrialised parts of the city in relation to 2 distinctly different ambitions identified. In a large subject area of ongoing debate requiring further research, design speculations and conclusions attempt to form a platform for future debate and suggest enquiry for other studies.

The Analysis will aim to investigate the emergence and evolution of the urban agriculture concept within architectural and urban design theory, and the current pre-occupation to create more sociable, self-sufficient built environments where “agricultural production is conceived as formative element of the city’s structure[2]”. Analysis will attempt to track the evolution in relation to key events and contrasting current theories with contemporary trends affecting cities and our cultural relationship to food production.


Blake Kurasek Closeup-Chicago-COPYRIGHT2009

Figure 1 – Allotments Morningside – Source Author     Figure 2 – Vertical Farming –Source Despommier

Definition of Urban Agriculture:

The process of incorporating food production within the boundary and periphery of the city has gained the popular but broad brushed title of, “Urban agriculture” or ‘peri-urban agriculture’.[3] Steel (2009), Author of Hungry city, argues the actual self-led practice of producing food within the city has existed since cities began, with cities and their agricultural hinterlands symbiotically linked. [4] Urban Agriculture has a long history as a practice and within city planning, although many architectural proposals have emerged Waldheim argues that more research is required to provide an overview of the subject.[5]

Currently ‘Urban Agriculture’ exists in both the developed ‘north’ and the developing ‘south’ with often very different motivations.[6] In the developed ‘north’ where this study focuses, characteristics and methods vary greatly between countries in the European context[7]  this mainly involves bottom-up, grass roots movements or individuals using allocated land (allotments) or reclaiming unused urban land or areas of existing green-space within cities. The terminology ‘Urban Agriculture’ has also been attributed to Architectural or large scale planned concepts emerging over the last 20 years involving incorporating food growing and even animal husbandry as part of the fabric of buildings and cities. However this study argues that more precise classifications are required reflecting difficult ambitions exemplified in the north, to allow the concept to develop a clearer direction and increased scrutiny of its role in relation to the city. Literature review identified that the emergence of the concept largely involved large scale utopian approaches, study will investigate if this is a recurring trend, and aims to identify the current dominant models and their motivations.  Literature review identified 2 main contradictions in the movement; in architecture and design as a large scale technological, solution to Carbon reductions and food Stress. Alternatively as an ecological ‘tool’ in the architects arsenal which can liberate the individual city dweller from larger economic systems, instead promoting a return to localised ‘green’ way of life. This will be tested through detailed analysis of current proposals incorporating the concept.

Outcomes of further study involving the subject area

Initially the research proposal involved a dominant methodology of ‘research by design’ to contrast and compare current models of Urban Agriculture against the attributes of a chosen city. However it became apparent after further enquiry during the early stages, that many questions remain unanswered within current architectural theories involving the subject area. As a result the emphasis of this study shifted to delve more deeply into the theoretical aspects of the research question using literature and desktop study as the primary tools as well as elements of design analysis. It was determined that this deeper written enquiry would enhance the nature of the design outcomes which would aim to analyse and speculate about the conclusions of this research at a more strategic level. The larger proportion written element of analysis aims to contribute toward a more holistic and informed foundation for future design based research regarding the concept of urban agriculture within architecture and urban design.

[1] Developed ‘north’ defined as the socio economic and political division which exists between the developed countries predominantly in the north and poorer developing countries. The divide is not wholly Geographic For other definitions see –  – Last accessed 21/02/2011

[2] Waldeheim – P18 PP1

[3] The precise origins of this definition is recent but unknown, – Steel C. Hungry City, How food shapes our lives , London 2009, P6, PP4

[4] Ibid.

[5] White M, Przyblyski M, Brackett : On Farming, Waldheim C: Notes toward a History of agrarian urbanism, ­ ACTAR Barcelona 2010,  P18, PP1.

[6] Viljoen A. CPULs: Continuous productive urban landscapes , Oxford, 2005, P37 PP4

[7] Many variations occur due to in statutory regulations.- HOWE J. Growing Food in Cities: the Implications for Land-Use Policy Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning

Volume 5, Issue 3, 2003, P255 – 268


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