Architecture Program


Date of this Version

Spring 5-9-2009


Current pressures in today’s world caused me to investigate strategies of change in the organization of society to promote a more effi cient existence. Globalization, a movement characterized by the dissemination of economies, ethnicities, media, ideas, technologies, and production; has become today’s reality. The shift from imperialism to globalism has caused a decline in the power and importance of nation states and a rise in the power of multi-national corporations operating within this globalized society.

The investigation focuses on globalism’s physicality and the fact that its existence is reliant upon access to inexpensive energies, which is not today’s reality. This dependence on energy will cause the collapse of globalism in the physical sense. Corporations will no longer be able to use their worldwide networks of production and distribution because transportation costs will far outweigh the costs of production of their products. In an ever more globalized society the production of goods has become increasingly cost effective for multi-national corporations. As the intensity of globalized supply chains increases so does the demand for energy. This ineffi cient means of production and distribution has driven up the cost of energy and corporations have begun to reduce the distances that their goods must travel because of this increase. If one can assume that these two trends are proportionally related, then as the cost of energy continues to rise the collapse of the globalized supply chain will soon follow. This power structure, once localized, will become inherently dominant. Multinational corporations that respond fi rst to these global changes will be the ones that fl ourish in this environment. It is not in the pursuit of ideological sustainable living that these entities exist, but toward the pursuit of profits. The corporate powers that globalism as a process has allowed to fl ourish as the power structures within society will become the agents of change in pursuit of their own self-fulfilling desires, they have no desire to act socially but in the pursuit of profits they must sustain the consumer. ConAgra claims to be acting more sustainably by collapsing their supply chain and finding synergies, but the actual motivation of these strategic moves is to reduce costs and increase profits.

This premise, along with increasing urban populations and densities, make it economically-feasible and essential for companies to localize production and distribution in urban areas. Over the last 100 years populations in general and urban populations have skyrocketed and these trends are forecasted to continue. In 1900, the world’s population was 1.65 billion, today it is 6.7 billion and the UN’s conservative estimates put the global population at nine billion by 2050. In 1900, 10 percent of the world’s population lived in urban areas, in 2007 that figure passed the midpoint at 50 percent, and by 2050 predictions put the world’s population living in urban areas at a minimum of 75 percent. It is possible to reference how similar the tendency of humans to concentrate their numbers in a limited space is similar to the social behavior of ants and certain other insects. This observation suggests that the evolution of modern man could eventually prove a fatal one in that gradually all individuality will disappear and the ultimate human society will be that of a huge insestate robot state. I, of course, am not prepared to recognize the possibility that our density will take that shape, yet the tantalizing thought persists that a theory projecting such a bleak outlook may not be completely imaginary. The collapse is upon us, of that there is no doubt, with consequences we cannot yet measure.

In pursuing the investigation in the post-globalized context production of food takes precedent over any other type because its production is highly globalized and it is a fundamental need for life. The current industrial food system was studied to gain an in-depth understanding of the means by which food is produced and distributed. A Healthy Choice meal, a ConAgra product, was mapped from its beginnings on the industrial farm to my microwave. This research proved how ineffi cient and unsustainable the current system is, further justifying a localized food system. The American food industry burns nearly a fifth of all of the petroleum consumed, about as much as automobiles do. Today it takes between seven and 18 calories of fossil fuel energy to deliver one calorie of food energy to an American plate. (Pollan 183) Our current food system, including food processing and distribution, claims about 28% of total US fossil energy use, with about 1/3 of this total used at the farm level. We use about 10 kilocalories of fossil energy for every kilocalorie of food energy produced, not counting the energy use in fi nal food preparation, and at the farm level, American agriculture uses about 3 kilocalories of fossil energy for every kilocalorie of food energy produced. (Ikerd 299) When humankind acquired the power to fix nitrogen, the basis of soil fertility shifted from a total reliance on energy from the sun to a new reliance on fossil fuel. When you add together the natural gas fertilizer to the fossil fuels it takes to make the pesticides, drive the tractors, and harvest, dry, and transport the corn, you fi nd that every bushel of industrial corn requires the equivalent of between a third and a half of a gallon of oil to grow it-or around fi fty gallons of oil per acre of corn. Before the advent of chemical fertilizer farms produced more than two calories of food energy for every calorie of energy invested. (Pollan 44)

Production of food in urban areas is not a new idea. According to the USDA, a third of America’s agricultural output comes from urban or metropolitan areas. The US Government’s Urban Gardening Program estimates that a $1 investment in food growing projects in cities yields $6 of produce. During the two World Wars, urban agriculture flourished in England and America. The threat of starvation posed by blockades and rationing of food prompted campaigns to increase indigenous food output, much of it from urban agriculture. During World War I, the number of allotments roughly tripled from around 450,000 to 1.5 million. At the outbreak of World War II, the UK’s minister of agriculture launched the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, as part of which more than half of all manual workers produced food from either an allotment or their gardens. Today, economic hardship is the main reason why urban agriculture is so common in cities in developing countries. Across Chinese cities, 85 percent of vegetables consumed by residents are produced within those cities, and Shanghai and Beijing are fully self-suffi cient in vegetables. The environmental benefi ts of urban agriculture are as much an incentive for growing food in cities as the economic ones. The current global food economy is heavily reliant upon nonrenewable resources and generates a large amount of waste. Growing food in the city shortens the distance between producer and consumer, thus cutting energy consumption considerably. (Doron 53)

Traditional urban agriculture cannot make a signifi cant impact upon the industrial food system in high-density cities with large populations, such as New York City, for many reasons. Extremely high land values within the city would make outputs from the system very expensive. Also, if all of the available vacant land and parks were converted to agricultural purposes, at the current rate of 1.24 acres of farmland needed per person each year (Pimentel 317), it would only be able to feed 40,266 people, hardly a significant impact in a city with a population over eight million.

Therefore, the proposed network engages the water for the production of food in order to have a scalable system capable of generating yields to supplement a high percentage of New Yorker’s diets. This model avoids the problems of producing food on land that is more economically suited for offi ce buildings. The architectural components of this system were explored, mainly, the production vessels, the interface on the waterfront, and retail components throughout the city. The interface facilitates the off-loading of goods from the waterbased production facilities, as well as many other functions. The retail nodes enable the sale and distribution of fresh food to the citizens of New York in areas of high density and with a strong coloration to the subway system. The intention of the network is to raise an awareness of the benefi ts of a localized food system, while acting as a catalyst for change.

Included in

Architecture Commons