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How can the cultivation of urban agriculture become a formal-spatial social catalyst?
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AGRICULTURE SOCIABILITY

Los Angeles
2010
University of Southern California
Design Project
 

In the context of a city, Los Angeles, where over 25% of its households have experienced at least one instance of food insecurity – a lack of access to affordable & nutritious food – this project asks: how can design be catalyzed by the sociability of food and small-scale food production in the urban landscape? This project therefore investigates how the idea of harvesting from landscape provides food production opportunities that can drive social interactions, spur programmatic building relationships, form & create space, and draw the community together. By doing so, it provides small-scale model that when aggregated, can begin to address the growing problem of food sustenance in cities & food deserts in dire need of it.

 

This project is instigated by what might be termed the “common social denominator” of food and the sociability around farming together, gardening together, and eating together - activities that bind us as humans. The project instrumentalizes the spatial sociability of food and the growing & harvesting of urban crops as the foundational building block to shape form & space in a civic community institution, serving as an educational and sustainable commentary on the growing problem of food sustenance in major city centers like Los Angeles, where the project is situated. 

 

Urban agriculture and community gardening as landscape also became utilized geometrically as a spatial and formal design tool. The idea of the ‘crop line’ that exists for agricultural efficiency that is traditionally two-dimensionally ground-bound, is taken and morphed into crop ‘strips’ to form architectural space and function. Using the spatial and sustainable requirements of different urban crops, crop strips are twisted or curved 3-dimentionally to form and develop social spaces to shelter and gather the community. Some ‘strips’ become void, acting as skylights to the social food hall or exterior public space & farmer's market below, and the roof and floor-scape become a dynamic relationship between twisting solids and voids. In totality, the project represents an opportunity for shaping a civic community center around food-production and food-sociability, design strategies that build upon the existing robust culture of food in the the city of Los Angeles.

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Vegetable and fruit crops that flourish in Southern California are analyzed and then spatially organized per their respective abilities & needs. For examples, crops like radish, mushrooms, and spinach require partial shade to grow; whereas grapes and peas need trellises or vertical hanging surfaces to grow on. These constraints instigated design opportunities for specific architectural and spatial guidelines that create areas for the community to gather and collectively farm together.

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Communal Gardening
as a Social Catalyst

In response to increasing interest in resisting global trends in food production and the industrialization & globalization of agriculture, the project instrumentalizes communal gardening as a community catalyst. While most urban-dwellers are not involved in growing their own food, the implications for this disconnect create imbalanced relationships between people, food, agriculture, land, nature, and place. The community garden is a model that combines the urban agriculture experience with an integral social element that emphasizes interactions among participants.

 

Thus, the project integrates traditional civic program like classrooms, auditoriums, and offices with a range of urban farming, and food-oriented activities ranging from outdoor farmer's markets, to communal kitchens, social halls and outdoor dining areas. Particularly, it is the sociability around the activities of communal gardening and harvesting that drive the formation of the project's social hall & courtyard and the relationship between programs that catalyze collectivity and socialness in the project. 

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The project is designed as a symbiotic system, simultaneously serving a comprehensive range of needs compromising structure, mechanical, sustenance, sustainability, and recycling. The landscaped roof crops are twisted in a southerly sun orientation for maximal growth, while simultaneously providing thermal mass for the building below. The tilted roof bands juxtaposed creates natural creases on the roof that allow for efficient collection of water runoff. Structural trussing not only serves to tie the entire cage of the building rigidly together, but dually acts as the buildings ‘veins’, circulating greywater down to be recycled and pumped again up to water the crops. Each system of the building performs, but does so in relation to the next. Not one system is optimized but all systems are optimized in relation to the other. The crop bands operate according to simple rules, incorporating various behaviors and patterns of movement into their forms. Through topological bends & twists, they conduct physical circulation through the space and the interiors emerge as a continuous looping space. Stairs & skylights evolve from the logic of the bands performatively rather than syntactically added afterwards.

Sustainability Systems

Symbiotically, the structural logic of the building is based on an interconnected network of flexible bands. The bands originate as 2-dimentional trusses that are twisted 3-dimentionally to further achieve structural rigidity. Within each strip, trusses form a 'truss-tube' and as a whole, multiple trusses tie together forming a 'trussed-cage'. Tying multiple trusses together in both the roof & floor system creates a rigid cage in both lateral and transverse directions, capable of freeing the entire social space of columns.

 

In order to sustain the growth of crops, a system of rainwater grey-water collection lines are integrated directly into the structural framework of the building. Water runoff is pumped through the multi-dimensional hollow pipes, organized strategically within the truss geometry so that supply lines are always higher than the re-turn lines, allowing for natural gravitational runoff. Runoff is then drawn down the structural pylons to the basement recycling system and reused to fuel new plant grow.

Large physical models at multiple scales were used as a tool to test the structural capacity and illustrate the geometric capability of the twisting trusses. The process of physical modeling confirmed the proof-of concept that increasing geometric curvature of the bands increased the overall unit's structural rigidity. Ultimately as a design tool, physical models were vital in developing the geometry of the project as well as conveying the essence of the design, strengthening it through its production and evaluation.

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Crop bands orient south to maximize solar exposure while also providing thermal buffer. The building's massing allows passive cooling from natural prevailing winds to travel and escape the courtyard and vent through the roof. Altogether, the building is a performative system that attempts to balance internal microclimates, achieve maximum human comfort, and prioritize sustainable & resilient networks.

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How can the cultivation of urban agriculture become a formal-spatial social catalyst?