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Review: London Yields 15.05.09

words William Wiles

Urban farming is a ubiquitous topic at the moment. It's icon's cover story this month, and London Yields, the Building Centre's exhibition on the topic, comes in a year that has seen similar shows in New York, Toronto and Montreal. In June, the Barbican gets in on the act, building an indoor farm as part of its Radical Nature exhibition.

It is clearly a subject that's firmly embedded in the architecture zeitgeist. And you don't have to look very far to discover why that is. The combined environmental and economic crises have made individuals more interested in self-reliance. At the same time governments have become nervous about food security and the West's long, vulnerable supply lines. The result is all this interest in downtown food cultivation from the architectural profession. "Urban farming is really the Holy Grail of sustainable cities," Dan Wood, principal of New York practice Work AC, told me. A way to save the world through urbanism - just the pick-me-up the profession needed.

London Yields is an interesting overview of some recent urban farming projects. The trailblazer in British research into the area is London-based architectural practice Bohn & Viljoen, which has been chewing at the question since before our combined emergencies made it fashionable. It has contributed a vertical window-garden to the Building Centre, to be farmed every two weeks for the cafe. More interesting is the practice's work in Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, where it has attempted to implement what it calls a "Continuous Productive Urban Landscape" (CPUL). This strategy involves stitching together existing open space and derelict sites into food-growing linear park that connect city centres with local farms. As well as identifying available land for cultivation in cities, CPULs aim to get people thinking about food production as part of everyday urban life. There is also information about Capital Growth, a campaign to find 2,012 new food-growing areas in London by 2012, and Havana, Cuba, where urban farming has become ubiquitous since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 wiped out food imports.

Beyond those examples, London Yields is composed of conceptual projects, notably Front Studio's Farmadelphia and AOC's Monsanto New Garden City and Croydon Roof Divercity, greening Philadelphia and two London districts respectively. There is also a varied selection of student projects, although some of these are a little over-reliant on engineering and infrastructure. Aerial vineyards on conveyors and the reclamation of the Thames are beguiling ideas that are perhaps a bit ambitious for what could be an age of scarcity. In a genuine crisis, more basic solutions that could be implemented rapidly. For those interested in the practicalities of urban agriculture and the obstacles to its success, the Building Centre is also organising a one-day conference on the subject - details below.

London Yields is at the Building Centre, London, until 30 May

London Yields: Getting Urban Agriculture off the Ground is a half-day seminar at the Building Centre on 27 May, starting at 9.30am

www.buildingcentre.co.uk

top image Monsanto New Garden City, a proposal for greening Hackney by Geoff Shearcroft/AOC.
picture Geoff Shearcroft/AOC

image Bohn & Viljoen’s urban agriculture curtain at the Building Centre, with Hadlow College
picture Bohn & Viljoen Architects/Hadlow College

image Front Studio’s Farmadelphia, a vision of a ruralised Philadelphia

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