Local Food Economies and the Logistics of Context

This studio investigated the movement back to more local food economies supported by small-scale local organic food production, consumption and education. The journalist Michael Pollan is quoted below from his article “An Open Letter to the Farmer and Chief” published in the New York Times Magazine a month before the presidential election of 2008:

“The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food – organic, local, pasture-based, humane – are thriving as never before.”

Pollan has been an outspoken proponent of reforming the industrial-food production system in the United States advocating for a more regional, decentralized system founded not on fossil fuels, but rather “contemporary sunshine.” He sees the current food system as having vast implications on much larger issues like our national security, health care system, our national sovereignty and climate change. Recognizing the vast implications this issue provokes, the studio focused its attention on the Finger Lakes region of New York State, which has a short growing season, strong agrarian legacy, and is suitable for various types of agricultural pursuits. We investigated the potential of architecture to help foster some of these changes at the local / regional scale, first by better understanding and dissecting the issue through exploratory research of food local production, then through the design of a Hydroponic Greenhouse Eatery and finally through the design of an Academy of Food Education modeled in part off the work of Alice Water’s “edible education” initiative.

The studio investigated the design of not merely the built ‘object,’ but also how the architectural proposition itself emerges out of a complex context, understood at a variety of scales. Investigating the issue of small-scale local food production, consumption and education allowed the studio to consider site / context both as a complex functional system from which architecture may strategically intervene through sensitive design and technological integration, but also through an understanding of the complex economic, political and historical patterns that have shaped food as an important social / cultural issue of today.

In order to deal with this issue as effectively as possible within the scope and structure of the studio we sought to understand context not simply as a collection of elements (trees, plantings, views, roads, orientation, etc.) but rather as a series of systems, or networks working alongside and with one another to give shape to the physical context we experience. We adopted Garret Hardin’s first law of human ecology: “we can never do merely one thing,” understanding that all of the choices we make as architects considering a building’s orientation, size, structure, material, etc., have specific affects on both the immediate as well as broader context(s). Of central importance to the studio was the use of diagramming and mapping techniques to better understand these interrelated systems and thus how to utilize this intelligence towards productive architectural design and positive integration with the “environment.”

1. Research and Analysis of specific issues related to the central themes of the studio
2. Study / Analysis / Research of processes and circumstances outside the parameters of the tectonic envelope
3. Investigating the relationship between building section and site, situation and setting
4. Understanding of diagramming and mapping techniques and their potential application in design
5. Development of computer drawing, modeling and rendering software (AI, ACAD, Rhino, VRay)

*This class was offered as a 2nd year design studio