Relationship between agriculture and architecture

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 1:34 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 25, 12 1:51 pm  · 

@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 12:25 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 12:43 am  · 
drums please, Fab?

i can has urban garden

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

Apr 26, 12 2:00 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.  

Apr 26, 12 2:07 am  · 

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?

Apr 26, 12 12:55 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 12:58 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 1:05 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.

Apr 26, 12 1:11 pm  · 
2  · 

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

Apr 26, 12 1:12 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 1:45 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!

Apr 26, 12 3:22 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 5:08 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

Apr 26, 12 5:53 pm  · 
1  · 

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 26, 12 7:45 pm  · 

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 12:03 am  · 

 Check out growing power in Milwalkee.    

Apr 27, 12 1:16 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...

Apr 27, 12 8:17 am  · 

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 28, 12 2:25 pm  · 
1  · 

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.

Apr 30, 12 1:01 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 5:13 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 -

May 3, 12 5:49 pm  · 

Hi everyone, I would like to share my ideas to u all, I'm an architecture student from India, my father is a farmer, I have experienced a farmer's life on my childhood. I think there is a way to solve all these problems. Why the farmers are struggling nw a days, because they are not getting any benefit through farming. They not even have enough money to buy daily life products for their family. If we arrange a market only for the farmers for a particular villages, so that they all can exchange their cultivated products. There is no need for money to buy anything. And this will reduce the value of money...., this idea will helpfull for the farmers who are all suffering for their daily life needs. And it leads to development in agriculture field

Oct 15, 16 4:39 am  · 
Non Sequitur
So atep backwards to a barter and exchange time? Good luck paying your monthly utilities and kids tuition with bags of potatoes.
Oct 15, 16 7:15 am  · 

"Go big or go home". If you travel at all in the Midwest you often see perfectly fine, well-maintained farmhouses and outbuildings boarded-up while the fields around them are under cultivation. What has happened is that the owners have sold out to the corporate farming interests who have no need for the homesteads. Of course, when the farmers leave they don't support the nearby towns and those towns slowly die also. The whole experience is like being in an Edward Hopper painting.

Oct 15, 16 8:20 am  · 

volunteer, really? I see boarded up houses, but ones that are well-maintained? Why can't people live on them like acreages? Subdivide the house from the farm.

I grew up on a farm. Along with commercial crops, we had acres of gardens and orchards that were table and hobby crops, strawbearies, potatoes, plums, walnuts, etc. That's how farm kids pay for college so that they can move to the city and never have to till soil or mend fences or pull another weed again. :)

My solution: get a fish tank, put it in your urban dining room and grow your own sashimi! Brilliant, right?

Oct 15, 16 9:58 am  · 

It doesn't get any more local than this.

Image result for fish tank

The anti-depressant effect of the beautiful aquarium scene is a bonus. 

Oct 15, 16 10:11 am  · 

I don't know why the boarded up farmhouses can't be leased out, but, in fact, they aren't. Too far for the renter to commute to a town where there is employment, I suppose.

Oct 15, 16 10:39 am  · 

Bring telecommuting to the countryside. Lots of jobs can be done from anywhere now.

Is part of the answer to be found in Kevin's own experience (and mine too) -- I'm talking about programs for (urban) high school kids to both earn money and gain skills while providing inexpensive labor for farms? 

Oct 15, 16 11:20 am  · 

I hate to be Debbie Downer, but the large agribusinesses don't need inexperienced kids (urban or not) on the payroll. The costs of putting them to work, especially paying the now-hideously inflated medical insurance expenses, is a non-starter. People who work from home and need to travel one or twice a month to a regional airport out in the boonies could probably make it work. If the cities keep getting torched some of the happy urban loft dwellers may start having second thoughts.

FWIW, on a related note the hot trend in Cali wine-country real estate right now is the American farmhouse, either remodeled or built new. The new or remodeled ones have fewer but larger rooms and more modern furnishings. The "Tuscan" style is falling out of favor, and the 'modern' style has always been a small slice of that pie.

Oct 16, 16 5:34 pm  · 

tintt - most sashimi sea critters like to have a lot of room and don't make good aquarium occupants; nice thought though

Oct 17, 16 1:41 pm  · 

Debbie D., teenagers don't need medical insurance through their employer. 

3tk, darn. 

Oct 17, 16 3:01 pm  · 

Nice question. when i imagine about a peaccefull life, i would dream about being a farmer. but the problem is, I Am an Architect.

The BIGEST WALL in my imagination is about the 'Tools'

Every profesion always have their unique tools. Many of us will argue about space. But i will say that our existence as an architect rely in the existence of Building. Who will pay us for other? Except you can take working without getting paid.

But if we want to keep this discussions going in a productive way, we have talk about the tools.

In the case of architecture as far as i concern, the weapon, the tool, is Geometry. 

What about the Farmer, do they need geometry? is there any other tool that can bridge the two diffrent world of profession?

Nov 20, 16 11:59 pm  · 

I spent my formative years as a teenager working on a farm owned by my grandparents and farmed by my uncle.  It was on this farm that I learned to grow plants and animals, to repair equipment and to repair and construct all the buildings that housed the animals and their feed.  Like most small farms in the midwest, our farm has a big dairy barn that adds character to the broad open landscape that surrounds it.  I understand the rational for why these barns aren't built anymore-both from the perspective of aniimal health as well as efficiency of material handling.  However, can't we do better than the ugly pole barns that are replacing the barns of old?  It seems that everything that is built on farms today detracts from the rural landscape rather than  adds to it.  Agriculture is the foundation of civilization and agricutural buildings don't show it.  Alas, I guess this is progress-or rather the myth of progress. 

Jan 16, 17 3:57 pm  · 

If the desire is to protect or help existing farmers, I think the first few things we can do as designers would be to stall, slow, prevent and reverse suburban sprawl. There are a lot of ways to do this. The problem, I have seen in Illinois where I live, is the farmland is taxed and valued at a much lower level than an empty building lot, the minute a town or village rezones land or even incorporates it into the city limits the taxes go up to a point where farmers struggle to make ends meet financially. If we can reverse suburban sprawl or slow it down that would help with one vexing problem.

The other is a matter of finances, small farms are like small businesses and the risk is huge and the buy in is huge. Farms can not aggregate the type and size of land needed to make a farm a viable business concern with the limited financing options available. The same investors buying up luxury condos were also at work snatching up parcels of farm land as investments. Many farmers have to lease a portion of the fields they need to get a crop to a size where the economics work. This leads to more and more cash or commodity crops, mono culture and dumping of fertilizer pesticides and other short sighted additives to try and leverage the output, sometimes to disastrous long term long lasting effect.

There is another design consideration, but it is limited to farms that have capitol to invest. There could be an interest in the farmstead as a vacation or rental property. This is already the case in central Illinois where hundreds of farm houses are rented out, on the cheap, to people needing a large home for their families but can not afford the prices in town or want the isolation and "space". There are a lot of rural Bead and Breakfast establishments that came about in the 90s and some of these helped keep farms in their family hands through some serious droughts market fluctuations and financial turmoil. There are a lot of abandoned homes in the rural Midwest as the number of people needed to cultivate the land decreased and farms were consolidated causing a rural population decline. The big hurdle is the lack of rural high speed internet and other urban amenities to make a lot of this work. High speed rural connectivity is going to be very costly and will require big government support and may be beyond the reach of many rural communities.

Finally we as designers could work to specify materials that are produced locally and have the core of their product in agricultural waste products. There are many examples of materials available and creating a market for products starts with us specifying them in our projects. 


Also, I disagree with the above disparaging comments on urban agriculture, there are potential opportunities to produce some local produce and other food stuffs but there is a limit and it can not fully address the food needs of an urban community. Having a patch of dirt or a window box to grow a few veggies and herbs in, would if combined with a city wide initiative to grow and eat some of your own food, reduce the malnutrition and hunger. Growing little patches of produce it is not a full and complete fix for urban food needs. It is important to note that community gardens, green roofs and living walls also serve to improve living conditions in ways other than food production before dismissing them as failures understand that the act of planting and growing in of its self is an important goal even if you never get more than a bunch of basil out of it.

Over and OUT

Peter N

Jan 16, 17 10:47 pm  · 

It's hard to realize

Jan 26, 17 7:47 am  · 

Hi Kevin, 

I'm currently enrolled in a Master of Architecture program in Nova Scotia, Canada. I grew up on an 80 acre farm in Ontario and had originally intended to leave the realm of agriculture in order to pursue my career in architecture; however the more I learn about our biosphere and the responsibility of our profession to effect positive change the more I realize I need to return to exactly where I started. Agriculture is the front in which global warming can be most effectively combated with carbon downloading, and individuals as eaters (as opposed to the choice of word 'consumers') can influence the most change in our society. I think the intersection between architects, landscape architects, and farmers, or agriculturalists, is of the utmost importance in the face of the anthropocene. #Ecovillage #communes?

Apr 15, 20 4:20 pm  · 
1  · 

. Farmers come from far away, so why not to create a resting space for them their families to connect architecture with agriculture better. Also why not to eliminate the role of middleman and gives better income to framers directly by providing agricultural markets and better education system to the farmers. 

Aug 9, 20 8:05 am  · 

it's actually our topic for our project about agriculture and architecture right now. tho we can't quite give a strong concise answer to the question "what is the 'architecture' in our project about agriculture".

Nov 5, 20 12:36 pm  · 

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