Columbia Graduate School of Architecture (Greg)



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    Mid-term farm fest

    By gbugel
    Oct 29, '09 3:37 PM EST

    We just had our midterm reviews this week, but in my studio the sense of accomplishment and respite that comes right after a major pinup has been hampered by how the review actually went.

    “Worst review I’ve ever been in.”

    “I never thought I would hear comments like that at this school.”

    “I wasn’t offered a single constructive suggestion.”

    “The critics were out of their comfort zone and didn’t know what to say”

    These are more or less some of the things my studio mates are saying after the event.

    The comments and critics were not especially vitriolic (though at one point, Charles Renfro did say to one group that to do what they were proposing, “you fuck the cows, fuck the housing and fuck the city”), but instead were mostly unhelpful and in a general state of disbelief about the projects and aims of the studio as a whole.

    Keep in mind that besides just housing for 5000 people/1700 units on a dense site, we are also charged with producing a type of food for roughly that number of people. This is a very difficult task, even if it were the only thing we had to do on the 37.5 acre site, so this is where most of the criticism lay.

    The architecture of the projects was not discussed as much as the systems and philosophy of food production, and as the panel of critics were all architects, we feel that they were ill-equipped to comment on the feasibility of the food-production ideas for each group.

    A few weeks ago, Dickson Despommier spoke to our studio about his studies of vertical farming. Totally sold on the idea, he is an unbridled optimist about urban farming at a large scale. After digging for some more articles on the subject I realized that he is in the minority. Read some of the comments after this post. Despite the suspicion of the idea, having someone with some familiarity (and positive bias for) would have offered a nice balance to the review panel.

    My partner and I were the first to present, and we were immediately asked why we incorporated fish farming runways in our project when it would be easier to grow them in an open lake or run elsewhere out of the city, where there is room. Though we countered by citing studies about dwindling fish stocks in the world’s oceans not lasting many more decades, the critics posed similar questions to the next few groups as well.

    At about two-thirds of the way through the review the critics had a lengthy discussion amongst themselves where they finally realized that the studio is forcing food production into these projects because of the outlook on future food needs and production capabilities. According to proponents of vertical/large-scale urban farming, with dwindling fish stocks in the oceans, growing world populations, climate change and sprawling urban development, the need to change how we grow food is approaching.

    Admittedly, the images we showed did not explain the fish farming system as well as they should have, so we can improve there. But as we thought the review would have been more about the residential architecture, we were all let down when time and time again the weaknesses of the food production systems were discussed at length, especially by people who are maybe hearing about these ideas for the very first time. (***Disclaimer: In the end my partner and I did get some good criticism, and in that way we fared better than some other groups. Coming out of the review we realized some weaknesses and imagined some new ideas.)

    Inevitably, at every review questions will be asked about why you didn’t do something that looks obvious, but it is always difficult to show your full research and explorations, and it is never good to get caught up wasting time explaining something that you have already progressed past. Maybe this review was too much of that.

    Reviews are for students. The critics are sometimes paid to be there, and are generous with their time and ideas, but in the end they must have something good to say. As one studio-mate has said more than once about this, we (students) are paying for this, and yes, we expect something positive to come out of the review. We have already discussed this with one of our studio critics (and I am sure there will be more discussion) that we need to have critics prepared to address our work. Overall, we feel that did not happen this time.

    Our own critics are running this studio as an experiment, so the reactions and outcome of the review can be somewhat expected. There are many questions about the feasibility of farming in this way, as it has never been implemented on such a large scale for a long period. In this way the studio is exciting. In a way the review accomplished something positive- the students in my studio are even more concentrated and focused on what we are doing.


    • 3dh?

      Oct 29, 09 4:48 pm

      Sorry you had a bad crop of critics - next time ask for some LAs to be invited (like me)! I would have had lots of fun with the project scope and technical challenges, and provided all the constructive planning, farming, and architecture critical responses you craved.

      Oct 29, 09 10:04 pm

      who is your studio critic?

      Oct 30, 09 10:46 am

      this is more a critique of your profs - and you can relay this to them if you like - if you do an urban farming studio - make it about really researching, understanding, and presenting a particular 'farming' system first as it applies to the site (in relation to local - especially the local/regional - and global contexts) - then include housing later - much later... if at all.

      that's the problem with a project brief that wasn't as well thought out - the critics won't critique your projects, but will critique the intent of the studio... your profs should be embarrassed.

      also - they are right to critique the farming systems... that's what your projects are about, right? if you guys don't understand how the systems work in the context of your site, it won't matter how cool your forms are.

      sorry to get all ranty - it just bugs me when something that is so obviously systems based - like urban farming - was so completely lost on the profs and subsequently the students.


      Oct 30, 09 3:00 pm

      sorry for the initial rant - I wish I could take it back...

      I reread your post - looks like you (and your profs) already understand most of what I said - although - I still think that the project is really about understanding and presenting your farm system - and how your housing works within the system. I understand why the reviewers acted that way - if they didn't see your systems presentations, this whole thing will seem really weak to them.

      barry is right - you guys really need a landscape architect at your review - they think in terms of ecological systems/networks and could better speak to how well your farm is working.

      you should check out Kyong Park's "urban ecology" - and look at analysis techniques by LAs like alan berger (drosscape is excellent).

      Oct 30, 09 4:26 pm

      I imagine your professors have already pointed this out, but for urban farming precedents check out Will Allen and Growing Power and

      Nov 4, 09 7:48 am

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