Relationship between agriculture and architecture

Apr 25 '12 22 Last Comment
Kevin WermeKevin Werme
Apr 25, 12 1:34 pm

Both agriculture and architecture are two very important topics to me. I recently graduated from UMass with a BFA in architecture and have supported myself financially by working on a dairy farm since I was 16 years old.  Living in New England, a largely agricultural region, it's sad to see the number of local farms dwindling in quantity over the past two decades. Working in the industry, I've observed today's small town farmers struggling to provide overhead for their business due to the rising prices in fuel and a growing competition with much larger and more productive factory-farms. I also observe their difficulty in maintaining land due to a rising population and an influx of corporations into more rural areas. Of course, a recent conscience shift in part of our culture to buy local produce and support local business has somewhat helped, but not nearly enough.

Needless to say, being a recent graduate during this tough economic climate, it has been difficult to find work. Having plenty of spare time, I've been thinking about independent projects and ways to create work for myself. Then I remember all my teachers and the professionals who have told me, 'young designers need to expand into other fields... and explore ways their knowledge of architecture can be applied to other industries and professions as both a practice and a process'. Take for instance, the Ando interview recently posted on this website, he said "The architect's skills are beneficial to society in so many ways, and that leads us to think about how our creative, managerial and coordination skills can be applied to other fields." ... and when I contemplate all these issues with my personal situation; I always find myself coming back to the topic of agriculture, and today's struggling local farmers.

I've spent time doing research on this topic and tried to find relationships, if any, between today's architects and their local farmers. I've also seen articles and forums on this website which talk about similar issues. However, what I've found is lots of results on urban agriculture/gardens, and the incorporation of agriculture into an architect's design. This is excellent for addressing the topic of localizing produce and food supply through sustainable design, but it is not exactly the concern I'm trying to address. The question I raise;  is how can today's architects and designers use this application of their professional knowledge to help support struggling local farmers already in existence? More specifically, how can we work with our local farmers in a cost-effective manor to address solutions for their economic problems through the process of design? And of course to help any fellow struggling young designers; what are ways in which students and recent graduates can take sustainability topics, new innovative design strategies, or modern technological design applications learned through their education, and utilize them in other fields or professions, not just architecture?

I know to some these may seem like pretty vague questions (or just three different ways of asking the same question), but I wanted to post this in an effort to start generating ideas and discussion on the topic, because I feel this is a very important issue. Disappearing local farms can have a detrimental effect on both our economy and society, and will increase hunger rates in a population that's already on the rise. Luckily, projects like the Global Village Construction Set on Open Source Ecology are already addressing this issue, and taking action to help support the local farmer.

What does the archinect community think?


Apr 25, 12 1:51 pm

Without agriculture then there is probably not much architecture.

Hunter/gatherers wandering around the prairie don't have much need for buildings, yo!

Apr 26, 12 12:25 am

@Kevin Werme

I really like your thoughts except that, 90% of them likely to fail, urban garden idea. Whenever I heard that word I get agitated and irritated. That stupid idea has been floating in architecture world even before Jesus was born. Hanging Garden anyone? Hang-over gardens might be better idea. Thanks to Mr.Ford, the division of labor is deeply entrenched in this society. After working 8 hours/10 hours+cooking+cleaning+ gym for some ppl, who is going to give a fuck about that garden. I saw that sh**ty idea fail numerous times. Urban garden is very cool idea for 4 20 day and even sexier in blurry renders in which happy community members are putting in extra efforts to take care these gardens. I would rather try communist collective farm.

Ok, I'll stop my rant here.

Apr 26, 12 12:43 am

tee I disagree.  Urban agriculture is the #1 best way to reduce co2.  I am all for anything that promotes decentralization.  We just need these urban farms to be on the small business scale.

Apr 26, 12 2:00 am

i can has urban garden

beets-n-chard done doin' great, ya!

Apr 26, 12 2:07 am

Urban gardens are great when they are deployed on horizontal surfaces, like yards, parkways, abandoned lots and parking lots.  I've never really understood the architectural fascination with fussy green walls, plantable roofs, and bio-luminescent algae tanks.  

Kevin WermeKevin Werme
Apr 26, 12 12:55 pm

Tee, Obviously the urban garden, urban agriculture etc. has been explored before and has been incorporated into many designs. OK, we all get that. But urban agriculture is not what I'm attempting to address. I am more concerned with how we as architects can help already existing small town farmers who are struggling to stay afloat. I know many may think; why help them? That's none of my business or not part of my line of work, etc. But I keep hearing how designers and architects need to explore other industries and apply their knowledge of architecture and its process to help that respected field. I personally, have a passion for agriculture and farming. So the question I raise is how we can work together with local farmers and share our knowledge of architecture, to create more economical and efficient farms? By collaborating with local farmers, we can bring to surface their common problems; problems which architecture and its procedures may have potential to intervine and correct. Our local farms are in a state of turmoil, and if left unattended, it will become a problem which will directly affect everyone.

Now, if agriculture is not something your interested in, this may not be a question for you to address. Instead think about another industry your interested in (not architecture), and how you can take your knowledge of design and apply it to that industry in order to improve it?

Kevin WermeKevin Werme
Apr 26, 12 12:58 pm

of course, this isn't something that can be simply answered in a paragraph for a forum. But I ask it to get people thinking about the topic, and to hopefully generate discussions on particular issues

Apr 26, 12 1:05 pm

Dutch architecture theory journal OASE dedicated an issue to the subject of agriculture. The articles and all back issues can be browsed for free here. Beautiful graphic design by Karel Martens as well!


Apr 26, 12 1:11 pm

Help them figure out systemic and spatial inefficiencies, how to better interact with their market/client/community.  Many farms are built/maintained in a fashion of how things have been done, if you have experience in operations there may be an opportunity to do things better/differently that improves the working day/culture/interactivity of what/how/when.  mobile education modules for farmer's markets/fairs/local food outlets?  providing educational workshop areas on farms or near multiple farms?  helping create visual aids (brochures, websites, etc) that diagram the importance of local farms, the network of local food sources (this might help if there are restaurants etc that emphasize local sourcing)? 

way to be thinking.  and to all the nay sayers, in new haven many of the community gardens have multiple year wait lists and are constantly full and there are ever increasing demand for initiatives that connect food to health/education/economy/community building.  not everyone participates, but it isn't hobby gardening for the rendering either.

Kevin WermeKevin Werme
Apr 26, 12 1:12 pm

Thanks for the links a-f, definitely gonna check them out!

Apr 26, 12 1:45 pm

RE: agriculture/architecture - I think farming is probably a better career choice than architecture. At least you'll be able to feed yourself.

Apr 26, 12 3:22 pm

I'm all for community gardens, but viewing urban farming as THE solution to co2 reduction and food shortage is ridiculous. Anybody with experience growing his/her own food knows how much work is needed for relatively small crop. That this is a hot topic in NL is very ironic, considering the environmental impact of the enormous production of Dutch tomatoes in artificially heated greenhouses, and the large consumption of pork (also energy- and indirectly surface-consuming). Winy Maas would be more efficient convincing people to become vegetarians instead of proposing floating greenhouses over Barcelona!

Kevin W.Kevin W.
Apr 26, 12 5:08 pm

The day I see a tomato harvester on top of a building, is the day I will buy into the notion...


Apr 26, 12 5:53 pm

Kevin, I am glad you started this topic.  As one who grew up on a dairy farm, I too have a passion towards agriculture and have continually thought about how I could use architecture to improve and promote the small farm.  I've considered pursuing the unique relationship as a graduate thesis, but have yet to convince myself that it is a compelling and productive road to take.

Though the cows have long been sold, my dad is still farming the some 600 acres and I hope that as I go back to help him this summer I can continue to develop and realize that relationship between architecture and agriculture that goes deeper that just designing cooler looking farm buildings.  It has to go in the direction that 3tk mentions; the connection between the little-man farm and the consumer community needs to reestablished and celebrated

Nam HendersonNam Henderson
Apr 26, 12 7:45 pm

Your point "However, what I've found is lots of results on urban agriculture/gardens, and the incorporation of agriculture into an architect's design. This is excellent for addressing the topic of localizing produce and food supply through sustainable design, but it is not exactly the concern I'm trying to address."

reminded me of Nate Berg's recent post over at the Atlantic about how the One Thing Missing from the Urban Farm Movement is Farmers...

as far as "But urban agriculture is not what I'm attempting to address. I am more concerned with how we as architects can help already existing small town farmers who are struggling to stay afloat."

I suppose one approach would be something along the lines of Serenbe and other sorts of agriburbia + CNU models of new residential ruralism/pastoralism.

Apr 27, 12 12:03 am

rural community commercial kitchens (or mobile commercial kitchens?).  Cost of bringing a facility up to code for food processing is far too much for individual small farmers, but if you can develop a facility that pools resources and provides rental space to allow smaller farmers to process some of what they produce they don't have to rely entirely on sale of raw product.  This would be very helpful for people who would like to do small runs of artisanal cheeses, or some farmer who has a cured meat recipe that has been handed down and wants to distribute legally...  There are only so many buyers for unique (highly perishable) heirloom crops - especially if you cannot easily get to a large enough local market.

Apr 27, 12 1:16 am

 Check out growing power in Milwalkee.    

Nam HendersonNam Henderson
Apr 27, 12 8:17 am

to toasteroven's point Florida just passed some laws (as did my county) which loosened up restrictions on small rural commercial operations. Basically making it easier for farmers to get into value added processing and rural agritourism, if the amount earned is less than a certain amount, around15-20 K a yr I think...

Kevin WermeKevin Werme
Apr 28, 12 2:25 pm

I think 3tk is on the right path with this one. In order to help our local farmers, the first step should be reconnecting them with their communities. Consumers need to be educated on the benefits of buying local food and just how easy and relatively inexpensive it can be. An example of two companies who are taking a step in the right direction are Cabot and Stonyfield Organic. Each are in the business of making dairy products from milk that is supplied by local dairy farms throughout the New England region (as opposed to one large factory farm). Stonyfield makes yogurt and milk while Cabot does cheese, butter and cream. Each of their products are easily available at local supermarkets, Stop n' Shop, even Walmart. I know many may think, why supply to and support a large corporation like Walmart? But by doing so we're making local products readily available to a larger demographic of lower-income individuals who may not have the opportunity to shop local otherwise; they just have to know what they're looking for. Consumers have the power to choose between products which come from major food distribution corporations, or products which are supplied by farms from their local communities. By teaching them what those products are and the benefits associated with buying them, we can in turn help out and provide support to our local farms. Also, there are a handful of co-ops farmer's markets who accept food stamps!

Once the community is on their side, that's when we as designers can turn our focus to the farm's themselves in efforts to help them run more practical and economical operations. Like 3tk suggested, this may involve working out productive, energy or spatial inefficiencies. Once the problems are addressed, architects and designers can work with the farmers to come up with new schemes for more feasible local farming operations. Obviously farmer's rely heavily on tradition and the "old way of doing things", so resistance is inevitable. Similar to educating the consumer; we have to teach our farmers the advantages of modern techniques, and how making changes (even if minor) can be positive for their business. At the very least we can teach these new schemes to young local farmer's, so when they start out they don't make the same mistakes of fall into similar circumstance as farm's before them.

Apr 30, 12 1:01 pm

Consumers need to be educated on the benefits of buying local food and just how easy and relatively inexpensive it can be...By teaching them what those products are and the benefits associated with buying them, we can in turn help out and provide support to our local farms.


People who are going to be swayed by purchasing locally already do.  You're up against low prices of large factory farms and convenience of processed food with the rest of the population.  Advocacy and education is admirable - however this assumption that "if only people knew what was best for them and the world" is incredibly naive, and you run the risk of alienating the very people you are trying to reach.  best bet is to get large government organizations (like schools) to purchase locally.  Oh - the bit about "low-income people" is presumptuous.  the vast majority of people know that diet is important (and that locally grown, organic foods are better for them) - the problem with poor food choices is more about the stressful effects of poverty than it is about access to healthy food.


btw - the number of farms in new england has actually increased over the past decade.

May 3, 12 5:13 pm

Regarding Nam's comment on farmers: in New Haven they quickly figured out the large numbers of immigrant who had a background in farming living off of low-wage jobs and are leveraging their desire to grow and know-how into their urban farming movement. pretty smart.

May 3, 12 5:49 pm

Not sure if this has been mentioned in the links above, but this project is very interesting:

This is about providing open source plans for a range of machines and tools, not only for a Walking Dead scenario, from the website:

"The Global Village Construction Set (GVCS) is a modular, DIY, low-cost, high-performance platform that enables fabrication of the 50 different Industrial Machines that it takes to build a small, sustainable civilization with modern comforts"

Of course, the relationship between architecture and agricuture had its formative roots at the very beginning of civilisation, witness Göbekli Tepe -

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