“[I]t is the territory that becomes the privileged protagonist of the post-industrial economy, acting as a place for working out the weak and diffuse energies of a powder-fine productivity.”
- Andrea Branzi, “Architecture and Agriculture”
Weak and Diffuse Modernity
An almanac, in its simplest form, is a book containing a calendar that includes notations for holidays and holy days, as well as astronomical information such as the rising and setting of the sun and moon, the phases of the moon and high and low tides, as we can read at Almanacs. Inspired by the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the editors of the first issue of Bracket had released a sort of almanac in the sense of those publications used during 19th century. With a series of contents that seeks to interrogate the fertile territory where architecture, environment, and digital culture collide, Bracket [On Farming] presents complete overview of what is architecture in the current times. As Mason White and Maya Przybylski pointed on the introduction On Farming: “Architecture is not only a byproduct of predictions, but Architecture itself is a prediction machine.”
The publication aims to forecast the forthcoming trends where architecture meets economics, ecologies, politics, weather and society. To achieve that aim, the book includes competition entries to encouraged the almanac’s supplementary material which occupies the majority of the published material. This first issue is centered in Agriculture, but in the sense of harvesting information, energy and labor showing the interdependaces of our globalized world, involving the management of the natural mediated by the technologic.
As a start point, Charles Waldheim uses three important projects in the history of architecture to illustrate his essay Notes Towards a History of Agrarian Urbanism. Waldheim points that many projects of the 20th century urban planning explicitly aspire to construct an agrarian urbanism, offering an alternative to the dense metropolitan form of industrial arrangement that started in the 19th century. The three unbuilt projects that advocated for decentralized agrarian urbanism are: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City, Ludwig Hilberseimer’s New Regional Pattern, and Andrea Branzi’s Agronica, and its further development, Territory for the New Economy.
He aims to give a brief pre-history of agricultural urbanism with an overview of these three projects as case study, analyzing issues as economy, contemporary food culture and environmental health, among others.
In total, 39 Projects were selected by the jury – which consisted of Michael Speaks [Dean of the College of Design]; Nathalie de Vries [principal architect/founder of MVRDV]; Mason White [co-founder of Lateral Office]; Fritz Haeg [Fritz Haeg Studio]; Charles Waldheim (Associate Dean and Director of the Landscape Architecture program of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto). The selected projects are sorted into different sections, that are:
- crop rotation/sequencing
The first “set” tilling/seeding includes six projects. One of them is AGER-AGRI by CTRLZ Architectures [Francesco Cingolani and Massimo Lombardi], which is a proposal for a single house (about 80 square meters) situated on the top of a hill just behind the city of Ancona (in the center of Italy). The site is located in a park classified area. The project attempts to approach the concept of living within nature in a different way, trying to reach both the interest and respect of the site with the client’s expectations. they explain:
“The project tries to deal within the actual discussion about sustainable development in architecture, not just using ecological solutions such as rain water recycling and renewable energy sources like sun or wind (everywhere adaptable by now) but suggesting a different way of living. Less consumption and wasting but most of all, self producting (according to the bio-diversity of the region) and exchange in a kind of self sufficient way and symbiosis with nature. “
The essays, written by the editorial board, also include texts like Harvesting Space by Nathalie de Vries, where she writes about the idea of urban farming has come up at the same time as the notion of shrinking cities. Mason White in The Productive Surface starts trying to give an answer to the question “What is the productive?” and he points:
“Taken literally, the productive surface refers to the capacity for a designed surface to generate a usable component — agriculture, renewable energy systems, water harvesting systems, et al. Much as Reyner Banham exposed a previously suppressed lineage of environmental engineering in modern architecture, the field requires, once again, a sociological and methodological account of the impact of environmental technology on design.”
Mason White’s overview of the history of the productive surface is followed by a series of case study taken from the selected projects, which includes projects as Dimitris Argyro’s Living Tower: A Vertical Horse Stable for Luxor. This project seeks to develop a sustainable pilot scheme to alleviate Egypt’s Luxor Central of its urban congestion, focused in the re-invention of the transport system using only horses and carriages. While sustaining Luxor’s economic growth and future prospects, Argyro proposes pedestrian and congestion zoning, bus stops, terminals, suburban car parks and inner-city garden areas for equine and public use.
Fritz Haeg wrote The Building That Farms…, an essay focused on the idea of “edible houses” that was born after the 1973_oil_crisis, when a nascent modern environmental movement had produced a strain of outsider architecture that was becoming marginalized at that time, and which included environmental strategies such as heat-absorbing systems, water-collecting, south-facing location, earth-sheltered, inflatable constructions that were developed in ways that “just thrilled” Haeg (in his own words) and are the main topic of his essay.
From the harvest/yield project selection, we can talk about the project Cloud Skippers by Studio Lindfors [Ostap Rudakevych and Gretchen Stump]. With a powerful set of renders to explain the idea behind these “clouds that are drifted languidly across the grassy plain”, Studio Lindfors explains their project:
“There are no walls surrounding the city of Aether –no gates or landmarks signaling its location to a returning traveler. The approach to the city is never the same. Its surrounding landscape is ever changing: one day, it may be nestled among the snow-capped peaks of a continental divide, and the following day sprawled out beneath the big sky of grassy plains. By week’s end, it may be a collection of silhouettes against the endless horizon of the ocean.”
Our friends from mammoth, Stephen Becker and Rob Holmes presented their research project Hydrating Luanda. Luanda is one of the fastest growing city in the world, but also is desperately short of clean water… as a response to this situation, Becker and Holmes started asking themselves: “What if water,already inextricable from agricultural processes, was itself farmed?” And, as a response, they are proposing four basic forms for fog farming in Luanda, including a highly formal farming architecture for the central districts of the city [particularly Ingombotas], spanning the gaps between buildings and hanging off of scaffolding over streets, providing water treated with nutrients for the benefit of a system of tubes growing algae, which is in turn harvested at processing plants to make biodiesel. On the arid periphery of the city, fog farming would serve to seed the future of the city and middle class suburbs, which ring the central districts, would also receive investment from the government and see an interface arise between the municipal water system and the fog farming infrastructure.
Their project ends with an interesting statistical index of luandan fog farming.
The Catalog: From Ploughs to Clouds is Maya Przybylski’s essay. With a deep analysis of the concept of “catalog” (a format that since the late nineteenth century, has had an important role as a disseminator of knowledge and access to tools), Maya focus her essay on the idea of catalog beyond its commercial purpose, and focus her research on its important social role as a participatory forum of information exchange. Using Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog as an exemplification of this role, Przybylski explains that the Whole Earth Catalog’s reorganization in a wide array of objects, concepts, manual and resources, became a tool of innovation, reinterpretation, criticality and other intellectually focused processes.
All this “cataloging” experiences from the 1960s evolved in what is now a participatory creation of content, based on the multilateral communication on the Internet. Przybylski ends with the comparison between the old catalog as the new “tag cloud”, the new organizational logic proliferating in cyberspace.
“Through the selection of the projects and texts featured here, farming emerges less as a conscious practice than a collective behavior across mediums.”
Bracket [On Farming] has been designed by Thumb and is a collaborative project by Archinect and InfraNet Lab. It has some more essays and interesting projects that doesn’t fit in this post, but they can be seen at Bracket’s web-site.