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Editorial: the future of cities gives food for architectural thought


From food facility design to carbon concerns, architecture engages with food production at every stage

Have you noticed how many architects like to cook (in the case of John Pawson writing books about how he does it)? This surely has something to do with the contrast between making a dinner and making a building. As a host/cook/client, the architect is in control of conception, programme, cost, materials, purchase, preparation, sequencing, presentation, decoration and context. How unlike the fragmented world of construction, design compromise, value engineering, public consultation, planning and regulation. In the kitchen, the architect is supreme. The logical conclusion of this analysis is that architects would enjoy running restaurants: I present Fergus Henderson, Architectural Association alumnus, who gave up the world of design to open what is now the world-famous St John restaurant in Smithfield here in London. Many years ago while still a student, he was premiated in an ideas competition to regenerate Hastings Pier; he proposed removing all the buildings, but providing what would be Europe’s finest sushi restaurant at the sea-end – supplied by people fishing from the pier. 

The next stage of architectural engagement with food consumption is the design of restaurants, cafés and their associated facilities. Apart from stand-alone restaurants, there is now an expectation that all quasi-public buildings will have attractive places to eat – for example at Kengo Kuma’s excellent new V&A Dundee building. With increasing interest in food technology has come a demand for hybrid designs which are entirely food-oriented, for example 3XN’s NOMA Lab in Copenhagen, where an ancillary building to the main NOMA restaurant comprises a laboratory, herb garden, staff area and office. Food-oriented architecture which is not about eating is most obviously represented by markets, that intriguing building type that ranges from non-architectural market stalls (though Cedric Price designed a good one) to industrialised temples (Tokyo fish market). 

Img 0699[1]

Img 0699[1]

Source: Paul Finch

Kengo Kuma’s newly opened V&A Dundee building has ample café provision on the ground floor, and a separate restaurant area on the first

Hamburg Grossmarkthallen

Hamburg grossmarkthallen

The Grossmarkthallen in Hamburg, designed by Bernhard Hermkes, provide a wholesale exchange in a building taking inspiration – like Kuma’s – from its riverine environment

On a recent study tour in Hamburg, we were able to access the impressive ‘Grossmarkthallen’, designed in the 1960s by Bernhard Hermkes with Gottfried Schramm and Jürgen Elingius. A heroic semi-Expressionist structure echoes the waves of the Elbe (cf Herzog and de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie concert hall). Normally a wholesale market closed to the public, it is occasionally part-opened to host a ‘Schlemmermarkt’ (gourmet market), so we were able to experience retail activity in a wholesale context. London’s Borough Market, next to London Bridge station, is an example of a wholesale market transforming itself for mainly retail use. After 10 centuries of continuous activity, it was nearing the end of its commercial life when the trust that controlled it decided to … hold an architectural competition in a bid to inject new life into this characterful London landmark. Architects Greig & Stephenson came up with the retail strategy and proposals for additional buildings and it has never looked back.

A broad review of architecture related to food would take in cargo and storage, agricultural production facilities and buildings for animals from birth to abattoir. To which one should now add a rather different sort of architectural exploration, which concerns food in an era of carbon concerns and the exponential growth of cities. The architect and environmental thinker Bill Dunster has tried to synthesise ideas about food, waste and energy in his recent book ZEDlife – How to Build a Low-Carbon Society Today (RIBA Publishing). Although not cited, the work of architect Rahel Belatchew Lerdell is an intriguing example of circular economy thinking: to illustrate what an urban insect production might look like, Belatchew Labs developed the BuzzBuilding for cultivation of crickets on a site in Taipei. The BuzzBuilding integrates the whole insect production flow, from the egg to the ready-to-eat insect – a source of protein that consumes less than 10 per cent of the resources required to create meat equivalents.

Insectcity by belatchew arkitekter

Insectcity by belatchew arkitekter

This production facility, designed for a site in Taipei by Rahel Belatchew, breeds insects as an alternative source of protein to meat

Michael Sorkin Terreform

Michael Sorkin Terreform

Michael Sorkin’s Terreform practice produced detailed studies to show how New York City might achieve food self-sufficiency

Whether the world, and particularly the USA, is ready to exchange prime US beef for insects is a moot point. In his tour-de-force study of whether it would be possible for New York to feed itself via food production within its own boundaries, Michael Sorkin showed that his brand of super-sharp architectural criticism in no way means a reluctance to conceive and promote achievable urban futures. Via his Terreform practice, Sorkin pointed a way towards modifying and/or transforming city elements to make possible an engaged approach to self-sufficiency. This involves accepting that people are not suddenly going to convert to veganism en masse, and that it would not be sensible to grow wheat in New York, given the ample production of the Midwest. It is efficient infrastructure that allows us to balance the home-grown with the imported. Architecture can promote a sensible balance. 

Lead image: Common Sense, 1998. Photograph by Martin Parr, courtesy of Magnum Photos; Index image source: Wikimedia

This image appears as the cover image of the AR October issue on Food – click here to purchase your copy today