Designers have a mission – to help food production return to city centres. Chris Precht of Precht architecture believes that cities have to become part of the country’s agricultural system again. In the last few years, people have become aware that the way we eat is putting in danger our health and our ecosystem. The recent climate changes are pointing out that we will have to change our way of life. The new idea is to incorporate agriculture into modern cities.
There is a need for new ideas in architecture, to create modern buildings that will be able to provide more than just a place to live. Bringing food production to all people, cities will be able to quickly achieve food security and to democratise the food system.
The cities as we know them today were once shaped by food. The beginnings of agriculture are closely tied to the birth of first cities.
The times when humans were hunters and gatherers ended a long time ago, thanks to the agricultural revolution. People started to settle when grain became a stable food source. However, even then people had to live near to their farms, due to the lack of refrigeration and transportation. Historians say that all old settlements had food distribution at their centres and farms in the surrounding areas.
Food production defined cities
There are still traces that show how towns and close farms once were. For example, in London, near the River Thames, there are Fish Street and Cornhill. Both got names by the fish and grain that came on the river. Likewise, certain parts of Northern London are named after meat production, because it is known that animals were taken into the city through those parts.
The food delivery systems changed forever after the invention of refrigeration, pasteurisation and the railway. That is when the production and consumption of food stopped depending on how close the two are. Those inventions made it possible for food to be fresh longer while being produced further away. Precht believes that because of that we disconnected from the food and we forgot how important it is.
Industrialisation pushed things even further and made food production very efficient. The problem is that the majority of the population became dependent on food systems that only a few large companies can construct and maintain.
On the other hand, since people became so distant to food and its production, this has caused urban areas to transform. Cities are growing more and more, and farmland that once surrounded cities is being turned to suburbs or new urban areas. Furthermore, thanks to modern construction, people are living higher and higher, disconnecting themselves further from nature.
Mankind is now facing an entirely new problem. Food production is destroying natural resources. Land that is used for food production is not occupying one-third of all land and crop production led to deforestation of 40 per cent of all woods on the planet. The food production emits around third of all gasses that are causing the greenhouse effect, and it uses around 70 per cent of all fresh water.
Food production, consumption and wasting could pose a threat to general health
The current way of food production is also harming biodiversity because the focus is on growing crops to feed animals. However, this could soon get worse because more countries are not adopting the western diet. Experts have figured out that there is a possibility that in the next 50 years, people from all over the world are going to consume more food than in the last 10,000 years!
Obesity, malnutrition and diabetes have become quite common, and it is all related to the food and diet.
However, food production is not the only one to blame. The construction industry is using one-third of all the world’s energy, and it is responsible for 39 per cent of global CO2 emissions. Precht states that this industry is the biggest polluting sector and his colleagues and him included are part of that.
He finds that international style is shaping the cities faster than others, without taking climate or location in the account. He believes that one country’s culture is defined by its buildings and food. To him, it looks like nature has lost its value and that economic growth is the most important for the current system.
The good thing is that we are slowly becoming aware of this problem; we’re not pushing it away anymore. Experts believe that around 90 per cent of all population breathes air that is more or less polluted, which causes approximately seven million deaths per year.
The survival of our species depends on the health of the planet. It was not that long ago when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, and we still need to get some sunshine, fresh air and clean water. Humans need to stop spending money on concrete buildings and instead, focus on green projects that could help us connect with nature again.
While the future of architecture and agriculture doesn’t look bright, Precht still has hope.
People are now getting interested in healthier diets. Many governments are supporting farmers market, urban gardening and seed classes. Good news is that, according to recent studies, frozen foods are sold less than before, while supermarkets have bigger organic food sections than ever.
Precht believes that this shift in people’s interest in organic food means that the right moment has come to design and construct buildings that will have food as their foundation.
Experts recently published a prediction that by 2050 around 80 per cent of all food will be consumed in urban areas. Furthermore, experts now say that a healthy diet demands food to be grown near the consumer. When you combine these two statements, you see that our cities should become part of food production.
Some people have already realised this and have started their food production – from communal greenhouses to vertical farms. This movement makes sense, both economically and ecologically. Since vegetables don’t have to cover a long distance, they are less like to spoil. Furthermore, there is no need for packaging, energy for refrigeration or gas for delivery trucks.
Vertical farms are the future of urban agriculture
For Precht, vertical farms are the best solution because they can produce more crops per planted area. Indoor greenhouse areas are ideal for monitoring plants, and it is going to protect the food against various weather conditions.
Another good thing about vertical farming is that it can rely on byproducts. For example, potatoes, beans and nuts can benefit from the vast amounts of heat and energy that buildings produce. No food would go to waste since it could be collected and turned to compost. Architects have found another excellent use for vertical gardens – they could serve as climate buffers between buildings, naturally ventilating spaces between.
Precht said that he is a part of a generation that has a more urgent mission than concerning themselves with forms, theories or styles. He feels that tasks for them are to create a healthy food system, reverse climate change and increase natural habitat. For Precht, all those tasks are now part of the architectural profession.
He sees future with buildings constructed out of haptic materials that people would like to look and touch. Structures that people could listen to since they will also be home to bees and birds. Buildings that would smell like herbs and vegetables.
Precht acknowledges that projects like “The Farmhouse” (new proposal of his company) are not going to help feed two billion people by 2050. However, that change needs to be introduced through clean meat production, agriculture that doesn’t harm the climate and by helping out organic farmers.