Home Growin’

So what’s for dinner then?

Over on prep-blog.com (Prudent Reasonable Emergency Preparedness) Thoreau has done the groundwork for how much land you need to feed one person per year. He allows 145 kg of carbs (55% of total calories), 35 kg per year of fats (35%) and 35 kg per year of proteins (15%) per person, and reckons that 4,700 sq.m (1.16 acres) per person is sufficient.

This amounts to 2,500 sq.m for the main carb and protein crops, another 400 sq.m for supplemental protein in the form of legumes, 1,750 sq.m for dietary fat as oilseed and 50 sq.m for the vitamins and minerals of miscellaneous fruit and vegetables. 100% vegan. He bases his calculations on 2,740 calories per day which, if you’re going to be fully occupied growing your own food, you’re probably going to need. You’ll survive then, if you have 4,700 sq.m of land.


photo courtesy modernfarmer.com

As ever, the landed have it going for them. But what about us city dwellers? =(


We’re still going to need approx. 2,000 calories as 50% carbs, 25% fats, and 25% proteins. This menu, courtesy of http://www.caloriecontrol.org, provides 1,929 calories as 250 grams carbohydrate, 140 grams protein, and 41 grams fat. Looks good.


Egg’n Muffin: 1 egg, 1/2 ounce ham, 1 slice low-fat cheese, 1 English muffin, 1 tsp. reduced-fat margarine
Orange Juice (1 cup)


Fruit Yogurt (1 cup) & Bran Mix (1 T.)
Water with Lime Twist (1 cup)


Tropical Chicken Salad: 1.5 ounce chicken breast, 1/8 cup low-fat cottage cheese, 1.5 ounces pineapple, 1 teaspoon reduced-calorie mayonnaise, orange peel, 1/4 cup grapes, 1/8 cup waterchestnuts, chives, 1/8 cup tangerines, 1 cup spinach, 1 tsp. almonds)
Three Bean Salad: 1/3 cup each green beans, yellow beans and kidney beans; onion, vinegar, sugar substitute)
Reduced-Fat Wheat Crackers (4 crackers)
Baked Apple (1/2 large)
Iced Tea with Lemon (1 cup)


Fat-Free Fig Bars (2 bars)
Skim Milk (1 cup)


Garlic Chicken: 5 ounces cooked chicken breast, 1/4 cup light wheat bread crumbs, 1/8 cup skim milk, 1/4 garlic clove, 1 tsp. tabasco, lemon juice
Wild Rice (1 cup)
Zucchini/Summer Squash Medley (1 cup)
Light Pound Cake: 1 serving, topped with strawberries (1/4 cup) and whipped topping (2 T.)
Diet Soda (12 ounces)

Mmm – garlic chicken!


I don’t know what you were imagining, but here’s what the world looks like for chickens (and eggs!) labelled “free range”. How many do you think you’re going to be able to humanely keep per square metre?


I’m not promoting battery chicken farms, but we’ve got an ethical problem heading our way.


Let’s keep it real. Unless we’re seriously thinking of keeping chickens and pigs, growing orange trees and harvesting grain in our urban gardenfarmettes, we’re going to have to forego breakfast. And morning snack. Things start looking up around lunchtime as we should to be able to grow spinach and at least one type of bean. For dinner, we can have garlic, zucchini and squash followed by strawberries.


Okay. Let’s see what a 2,000-calorie vegan diet looks like. They’ve made it easy.


It’s not going to happen either. In all likelihood, in our urban farms, we’re not going to grow tea, coffee, nuts, grains, seaweed, fruit trees or vines. We might be able to grow bok choi, cucumbers, tomatoes, chrysanthemums (but why?), berries, soy beans, carrots, celery, strawberries, chick peas and melons. Even with a vegan diet it’s going to be impossible to be self-sufficient in protein. It makes one wonder how the human race ever survived long enough to get to where we are now.


And even if the Japanese invent the electric tofu maker (whoops, they have), we’ll have to eat at least a kilo of the stuff per day to get our 125g. First though, we’ll need to make soy milk.

Actually, first we’re going to need some soybeans. They’re good nutritional value. Let’s see if they’re spatial value too. If their calories/m3/month don’t stack up, we might be better off keeping chickens. Here’s some soybean yield data. Let’s say it peaks at 40 bushels per acre, whatever that is.


1 bushel/acre = 67 kg/10,000m2 Thank you so much instate.edu, even though it’s bad news. It’s equivalent to 6.7 grams/m2. We’re going to need more than 30 calories (and only 2.4g of protein) per square meter every three to five months it takes the crop to mature. We’re screwed. Conventional food and conventional (soil based) means of food production aren’t going to do it. We need huge increases in protein yield per square (or cubic) metre.

What about taking another look at algae – especially spirulina? It’s looking good!


Here‘s how to grow the stuff. It’s not rocket science.


6-10g per square metre per day. Taking the high end of 10, that’s 5.7 grams of protein per square metre per day. That’s a better bet than the 6.7 grams of soybean protein per square metre every 90-120 days. Soybeans, even though we’ve sort of just gotten used to them, are going to be retro food for reactionaries.

Even if we gear up for spirulina to satisfy our functional protein requirements, people will still want to shape and colour it to look like roast beef, chicken or fish much like Post Modernism did for functional arrangements of columns and slabs.


But this is not a post about the aesthetics or the cultural meanings of food. It’s about what we need to get in us. I’d like to separate these two concepts before they get totally muddled. Japanese people, for example, eat a lot of rice. It’s not because they have to. They can eat anything they wish but they like to eat rice because Japanese people eat rice. Eating rice makes them feel more Japanese. So before we get all Post-Modern and cultural referency about food requirements real or imagined, physiological or culturo-tribal, I’d just like to repeat that this next exercise is purely about physiological nutrition and not about “sustenance” in any sense other than that.

• • •

Even though this must have been common knowledge once, there’s probably a PhD in it for someone who can find out how much growing has to be done and in how much space. If we assume that everything we grow is at least as nutrient dense as a carrot (and that everything combined makes for a balanced diet – two huge assumptions), then two square metres per person just might do it. With a bit of soil and supplementary lighting, this area you may recognise might be more than enough for four persons. Some nutritionally dubious things are already growing there.



The UK is in two minds about large supermarkets.

Mind #1.

big retail

Mind #2. 


There’s nothing romantic about what’s replaced it either


although some attempt faux-countryside Tesco, Meir Park, Stoke-on-Trent

or equally faux architectural-media stylings. Here’s an eco-friendly, sustainable supermarket designed by the CHQ Partnership. It didn’t stop the rot.


And nor did smaller stores in central London, partly because the limited range of goods on offer didn’t satisfy any nutritional need other than a fast lunch. From this photo, you can’t even tell the store sells food.


Urban farmers’ markets are often given as a virtuous alternative to large supermarkets – and a fun day out too! – but have a reputation for being expensive, selling niche produce and not being open all the time.


This is Chapel Market, near Angel Islington, London.

Angel_chapel_market_1It’s been selling vegetables, fish and other useful food since about 1880.


This traditional typology had all but disappeared in London. It was only Chapel Market’s merger with the more expensive and upmarket farmer’s markets that made people realise it’s not such a bad way to shop after all (unless it’s a Mondays, or a Thursday or Sunday afternoon).

The US has its Walmarts and its Ralphs, but its history of food retail typologies has been less tumultuous for New Yorkers, or at least it has for those living Upper West Side.


The traditional grocer typology has adapted well, although these stores aren’t small or all independent anymore. The range of products behind their fruity frontages is enormous. They’re 24-hour and have free delivery. Their aisles may be narrow, but they are truly convenient. It looks like they sell food.

With the superstore typology, sellers ask consumers to bear the cost of collecting their food from the point of purchase. With the New York model, it’s irrelevant. It’s true that, in NY, the point of purchase may be closer to the point of consumption but how far the goods have actually travelled to get there is another matter. It’s the distance between the point of production of food and the point of consumption that’s the problem with food miles, not where it’s paid for. Even on the basis that food and shelter are both primary human requirements, it makes sense to bring food production closer to where it is consumed. The good arguments for this have been made elsewhere by people other than me.

• • •

It’s what Tyler Caine is suggesting when he writes on intercongreen.com, that vertical farms need a residential piggyback. In another post describing a recent vertical farm proposal, Caine makes the reasonable point that not all vertical farming proposals have to be for Manhattan. Most cities don’t have Manhattan’s density or the land values that generates it but, the mindset goes, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

Hive-Inn City Farm NYC

The problem is that the reasons Manhattan is dense are the same reasons land values are high. And vice-versa. Any non-residential use has to compete for land with residential. This is how the law of the jungle works in cities.   

Now IF the growing of fruit and vegetables is to be actually integrated with, and presumably add some sort of value to, residential space, then the options are:

  1. near where people live (like an remote allotment) and/or
  2. within the living space itself, and/or
  3. adjacent to the living space itself, and/or
  4. on top of the living space itself.

I’ll think about this in some later post. First of all though what do we plant? And how much of it do we need to plant? Lebbeus Woods and several generations of architecture students since have visually prepared us for any manner of post-apocalyptic architectural scenarios but WHAT’S FOR DINNER? Seriously, what’s the point of living in a monochromatic dystopian future if you don’t know where your next meal is coming from? These things need thinking about too.


We’ll be fine for wheatgrass and strawberries it seems, but, if we’re going to get serious about feeding ourselves, we’d be better off considering the problem of food from the other direction and first determining how much of what we’re going to need to eat and then going about trying to ensure we’ll be able to grow it. The following is a chart showing the elements humans need to survive. Traditionally, we get these from food. It’s a good system.

elementsThese elements have to be provided as a certain number of calories. Here’s a list. Let’s assume each of us needs 2,000 (k)cals per day even though this will be too much for some and insufficient for others.

caloriesThere’s disagreement of course as to how those calories should be provided.

Photo Feb 12, 2013, 10_42 AM

The popular smartphone app MyFitnessPal suggests 55% carbs, 30% fat, 15% protein but the Mayo Clinic suggests 45-65% carbs, 20-35% fat and 10-35% protein. In order to outline a way of thinking as well as for ease of calculation, I’ll use 50% carbs, 25% fat and 25% protein. This means that each day, to maintain weight, our average person needs a minimum amount of those necessary elements provided as

1000 calories from carbs, 500 calories from fats, and 500 calories from protein.

Next, we take this on board per gram of each.

Macronutrient Calories Kilojoules
Protein 4 16.7
Fat 9 37.7
Carbohydrate 4 16.7

This means

250g of carbs from natural, nutrient-dense carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains.

125g of proteins from mainly plant sources of protein, such as beans, lentils, soy products and unsalted nuts, or seafood, lean or low-fat meat, poultry and dairy.

56g of unsaturated fats from healthier sources, such as lean poultry, fish and healthy oils, such as olive, canola and nut oils.

Every. Day.

The thing is, we know our minimal nutrient requirements. They’re not a problem. What we don’t yet know is what plants and how much of them can satisfy those minimal nutrient requirements in ways that are economically and spatially viable for urban farming, vertical or otherwise.  We need to know this before we rush ahead and start designing vertical farms. If we don’t, then all we’ll end up with is symbols for vertical farm architecture, instead of vertical farm architecture that achieves it. It’ll all go tits up the same way green roofs did. 

If this seems familiar, it should. Remember what Radical Functionalism tried to do for housing? Personally, I don’t see what’s so radical about

  1. Determining what the minimum standards are.
  2. Satisfying them.
  3. Trying to do it better.

Well, let’s try it again and see what we can do for food. I’m not saying everyone should eat the minimum and no more. Or denying a place in the world for food as performance art or decadent pleasure. All I’m suggesting is that we should determine a baseline for minimum performance so that strategies to achieve that minimum can be devised, compared and refined.

Okay? Good. Let’s now plan a menu and, on the basis of that, a harvesting list so we know what we need to go out and get. To make things easier, we’ll eat the same things every day. We need 250g of carbs, 56g of fats, and 125g of proteins from the things we grow.

100g carrot = 10g carbs and 40 calories

Now, your average carrot is 75g and 30 calories. One carrot plant doesn’t take up much space, but if I need five carrots every four days then I have to plant five carrots for the four days I eat one. The amount of time it takes them to reach maturity will determine the size of my carrot patch.

A carrot takes twelve weeks to grow to maturity. I can plant carrot seedlings 5cm apart.

To get 10g of carbs in 40 calories per day from carrots alone, I need to plant 12 (weeks) x 7 days = 84 days, x 1.25 carrots/day = 105 carrots, @ 5cm x 5cm = √105 (= 10.24) x (5cm x 5cm) ≈ 0.25 sq.m. Just for me. Of course, I’d plant and harvest all the carrots at the same time and store them to use as I needed but the point is that, at full yield and constant cultivation, that 0.25 sq.m (2.6 sq. ft) of space is only providing me with 15% of my daily calories. This is where spatial footprint and efficiency of cultivation enter the equation.

This is the reason why things get grown in out-of-town places and foreign countries. This is why fertilisers and pesticides are used. This is why much production is mechanised. This is why farms are large. Urban agriculture will have to have a superior cost efficiency if it is to ever supplant conventional farming practices.

I’ll explore this more in my next post but, for now, I’ll just say that we need to view fancy architectural proposals for urban and/or vertical farms in terms of some standardised index of nutritional efficiency. Even a metric as simple as calories per cubic metre per month would enable us to meaningfully compare proposals like this


against what we have now. Sometime in the the future, we might have to decide between architecture or sustenance.

Meijer Mastronardi Photo 8

The Orangery

Some of mankind’s earliest attempts to understand climate came from observing simple natural phenomena such as slope aspect. The slope on the left faces north and supports a different type of vegetation from the slope on the right which faces south and is drier. Slope_effect It didn’t take long in the history of civilisation to figure out that tall plants like olive trees are best grown on south facing slopes as they receive more light. Planting them in north-south rows meant less mutual shading. Olive_trees_reflected_waters_Barragem_Alqueva_Portugal_20120908 Low plants such as grape vines were best planted on south-facing slopes in rows running east-west. Grape vines produce more sugar in proportion to the sunlight they receive – a fact exploited by winemakers since about the 2nd century. 080110_zell_mosel Grape vines are also an example of espalier which is the practice of training fruit trees to grow in only two dimensions such as this. It’s another way of getting more light to the fruit. 2380032802_e367608223_o The next step in the evolution of this knowledge was the fruit wall. Not this fruitwall®!


It’s true that not everything has to be kept in the refrigerator but misfits readers will know that the ethylene given off by the apples will facilitate the ripening and premature decay of the other fruit.

A fruit wall is when espalier happens against a wall. The wall provides support and, if it faces south, reflects light back to the plant whilst its thermal mass absorbs and then emits heat that extends the growing season of the plant. Espalier_tree_-_geograph.org.uk_-_776943

This now brings us to oranges! We think the orange was first cultivated in China around 2500 BC but, sometime in the 16th century, Portuguese merchants introduced the sweet orange to the Mediterranean countries.

The word entered Late Middle English in the fourteenth century via Old French orenge (in the phrase pomme d’orenge). The French word, in turn, comes from Old Provençal auranja, based on Arabic nāranj. In several languages, the initial n present in earlier forms of the word dropped off because it may have been mistaken as part of an indefinite article ending in an n sound—in French, for example, une norenge may have been heard as une orange. The sweet orange quickly was adopted as an edible fruit. It also was considered a luxury item and wealthy people grew oranges in private conservatories, called orangeries. By 1646, the sweet orange was well known throughout Europe.

Orangeries wouldn’t have been possible without the development of glass.

The orangery originated from the Renaissance gardens of Italy, when glass-making technology enabled sufficient expanses of clear glass to be produced. In the north, the Dutch led the way in developing expanses of window glass in orangeries.

Their elevated internal temperatures of orangeries were the result of what we now know as solar gain, and the sun hitting the thermal mass of the floor. Wealthy people were delighted to have a new function to add to already oversized houses but, although orangeries started off as showing off your oranges and that you were wealthy enough to grow them, they soon became full-time places for banqueting and showing off in general.

The orangery, however, was not just a greenhouse but a symbol of prestige and wealth and a feature of gardens, in the same way as a summerhouse, folly or “Grecian temple”. Owners would conduct their guests there on tours of the garden to admire not only the fruits within but the architecture without. Often the orangery would contain fountains, grottos, and an area in which to entertain in inclement weather.

This orangery in Kuskovo circa 1760 was never used for orange trees even though its sloping walls – a Dutch innovation – allow more light than regular glazing. The Russian for orange, btw, is apelsin (апельсин).Kuskovo_orangerie Even today, it is a common Russian courtesy to offer guests an orange – or so we were told in 2008 when Foster & Partners were hyping this project that was quickly dubbed “Project Orange”. Check out the model. The project gets no mention on the F&P website. All that remains is a bit of internet debris on e-architect.

2008 Project Orange, Moscow, Russia Feasibility Study The 80,000 sqm scheme for a contemporary art museum with commercial elements and housing is for development firm Inteco. The project is influenced by natural structures including that of the orange, a historic symbol of opulence in Russia. The circular plan, with five segments rising to 15 storeys, is designed to protect against the cold winter climate while allowing light deep into the building through glazed slots in the elevation.project_orange_fosters160408_2

I remember reading somewhere that this is what Foster & Partners are good at – dressing up high-tech PoMo whimsy with eco-justifications. I’ve never forgotten it. Technically speaking, an orangery is a greenhouse attached to a house. It’s heated by solar gain only. They enabled orange trees to be cultivated in locations where they’d otherwise not survive the winter frosts. Even today, gardeners will uproot their geraniums (an import from South Africa) and store them in a greenhouse for replanting in spring. Click here for tips on how to over-winter your geraniums. geraniums Hothouses are greenhouses that are artificially heated to create an internal environmentthat enables the cultivation and appreciation of exotic plants that would otherwise not survive whatever the season. The Orangery at Schöenbrunn Palace is a hothouse as it was heated by a hypocaust system. That’s underfloor heating such as used by the Romans. Here’s the principle. Hypocaust This orangery was used for overwintering orange trees but a fair share of entertaining took place as well. historische

For as long as the time of the Habsburgs the Orangery was a place of musical and artistic festivities. During one of these events, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri competed in a musical contest at court – a contest still considered unique in music history.

The advent of steam boilers coupled with the Victorian passion for colonialism and the attendant bounties/curios it brings, led to a boom in botany as well as hothouses, even though they usually came to be called conservatories. A conservatory is a basically a sunroom with decorative plants to create or enhance the illusion of being outside. This is a conservatory. conservatory 2 If a greenhouse is specially heated for the sake of the plants it contains, then it is a hothouse. If a greenhouse is heated for the sake of its human users, then it is a conservatory – a substantially glazed room that may or may not contain plants exotic. Even though one of the first uses of skylights was Burlington Arcade in 1719, it was at least another hundred years before glass skylights became a standard feature of orangeries, hothouses and conservatories. These days, we think of a hothouses as where vegetables – especially tomatoes – are grown for profit. Flowers too. Meijer Mastronardi Photo 8 These days, an orangery is probably where someone you know will have their wedding reception. 4671_Orangery-Reception-medium-resOr ceremony. margam-orangery-wedding-16 And these days, a conservatory is what your suburban neighbour is requesting planning permission for. It probably looks like this – an addition, substantially glazed, aesthetically external to the “main composition” yet attached to it on one side, preferably south. The parapet wall and internal gutter are residual stylistic affectations. orangery-pic-2 Inside, your neighbour’s conservatory will probably look like this – some extra living space with a bit more glazing than usual. orangery-culcheth-warrington-cheshire-001 It was never going to end well for orangeries. What began as an exercise in reducing food miles by providing oranges with conditions for their growth ended with people wanting that warmth and light for themselves. Thomas Jefferson engraving after painting by Rembrandt Peale. The demise of the orangery was played out many times but the “orangery” Thomas Jefferson had built at Monticello was a precursor for them all, going from functioning greenhouse to family sitting room over the twenty years from 1807–1827. 3445111406_8b0817a4e9_z Jefferson, like many gentlemen of the time, was an amateur botanist and people around the world shipped him specimens.

Whether or not these strange species from a distant land thrived or were even planted remains a mystery. As with a multitude of plants Jefferson received from his friends throughout his life, he did not record their fate. What Jefferson did record made the prospect of maintaining any sort of tender plant doubtful. His weather observations from January 1810 noted his bedroom temperature at 37 degrees Fahrenheit and the greenhouse at 21 degrees. In April 1811, a year before the Cape bulbs arrived, he wrote to McMahon [the man sending Jefferson plants from South Africa]:
“You enquire whether I have a hot house, greenhouse, or to what extent I pay attention to these things. I have only a green house and have used that only for a very few articles. My frequent and long absences at a distant possession render my efforts even for the few greenhouse plants I aim at abortive. During my last absence in the winter, every plant I had in it perished.”
Jefferson’s admission to McMahon himself of this inhospitable environment suggests that perhaps McMahon was encouraging Jefferson to make an effort to provide some heat. In any case, by 1816 most references to plants for the “green house department” were in the distant past. Jefferson’s South Piazza was serving more as a storage space and utilitarian room where he kept his large rectangular work bench and chest of tools that he had acquired in London. 

Correspondence between Jefferson’s granddaughters in later years indicated that plants were actually removed from the frigid greenhouse during winter months. Cornelia Randolph wrote to her sister Virginia on December 1, 1820, “I had all our plants moved into the dining room before I left home and yours along with them. I hope they may be able to bear this bitter cold weather.” Again, on October 31, 1825, Cornelia would write, this time to her sister Ellen, “Mary and myself are established in mama’s room with all her furniture and the sunny window in which I shall range my green house plants when the weather is cold enough to take them in . . .”
By the end of his life, Jefferson’s greenhouse appears to have functioned more as an enclosed porch, Seven months after his death, Mary Jefferson Randolph wrote to Nicholas Trist that “the green house had been used so long as a common sitting room for the whole family that there were many of our things in it and in packing up some may have escaped our observation.” The following year she described again the transformation of the greenhouse space in a letter to Ellen Randolph Coolidge: “How often I wish I could see your two sweet babies, added to the four that now run about the house or roll and tumble on the floor in the green house, which serves as a very pleasant little sitting room for us, during part of the day (when the sun does not shine upon the windows) and is at all times a favourite play place for the children.”

The question then is, why didn’t he just build a house with a space like that to start with? And why doesn’t everybody else? True, at 21°F (-6.1°C) in January, it probably wasn’t a favourite place to play, but it seems like it wasn’t such a bad place to be otherwise. You don’t have to be an orange to appreciate some sunlight and warmth during the day. This then brings us back to Lacaton & Vassal’s Lapatie House. lapatie house interior Lapatie HouseWhen it gets too cold for sitting you can withdraw and let your orange trees winter there .

The Economics of The Ideal Penthouse


432 PARK AVENUE has its detractors. A certain type of web forum frequenter finds it “boring” and seems to think these things are built to entertain them. True, there’s not much of an architectural statement other than stating it’s arrived, but this very absence annoys aesthetes who admire skylines as a Jane Austen character would a landscape.

VF6STR1261CJ70.pdONE 57 is already there, with its quiff and gradated glazing suggesting to residents (and onlookers) the direction in which they should (or would like to) be looking.

P1020246I can see how 432 PARK AVENUE appears superficially uninteresting and temporarily prominent but, like Edward, take pleasure in ordinary things done well. Most of what I like about 432 PARK AVENUE is related to its economics. I’ve always taken it as fact that buildings occur when the three elements of land, money, and a will to build are in place. Much of the time, the will to build comes from anticipated return on investment. With NYC’s recently more promiscuous attitude towards supertall buildings, there’s obviously a return to be had.

The 432 PARK AVENUE marketing site is a great site. It does what it does and it does it well. It gets straight to the point. Here’s the splash page.


This next graphic shows why the splash page offers Russian, Portuguese and Spanish languages. Including French is traditional. Chinese can’t be ignored. Hindi and Arabic speakers prefer local displays of wealth. Japanese speakers don’t spend.


Not that words matter anyway if you’re an ultra-high-net-worth individual with a net worth of at least US$30 million AFTER you’ve spent what you can on company shares, art, planes, fast cars and a few houses in welcoming countries around the world.

The thing I most like about 432 PARK AVENUE is how integrated all the things I like are. It’s not easy to isolate them, even for discussion, but here goes.

1. Height

If height and the views that come from height are what’s being sold, then the marketing site leaves you in no doubt. The first page after the splash page offers a selection of views from various heights.


The implication, of course, is you get what you pay for.

432-Park-Avenue-view-from-1271Meanwhile, views from ONE 57 up the road are being marketed as on axis with Central Park, suggesting that a false definition of quality trumps a false definition of quantity.

The remainder of the website falls into place.

My only quibble is its mention of “Palladian proportions”.


Views attract windows and preferably big ones. Lots of ‘em. The windows of 432 PARK AVENUE are 10 ft. square, implying Palladio found perfection in the number ten as well as squares. However, Palladio used the Vincentine foot which is 13.66 US inches. If our man Andrea had been called on to design 432 PARK AVENUE, he would have made the windows US 12’4″ x 12’4″.

2. The Free Plan

By this I mean free in the sense we understand Corby to have meant, not what he did. 432’s column-free sellable space is made possible by the small depth between the core and perimeter – a span of about 10m. In theory, the floors could be sold as open “loft” space but I doubt that high- or ultra-high-net-worth individuals could really be bothered. The generic plans do all the right things. Here’s the plan of the 91-96th floor penthouses – the 92nd floor one is still listed as available at US$82,500,000.


It doesn’t matter. It’s all arbitrary walls. Master bedroom with his and hers bath and dressing rooms. About ten toilets. A fab powder room. Some not particularly large bedrooms. A somewhat tiny kitchen and an unimpressive foyer. None of it matters. Apartments like this are designed around the wow moment when visitors are ushered into the living room. Here’s some SOM examples with furniture artfully arranged around pesky structure that complicates the apartment planning incredibly. SOM does the wow moment well.

With 432 PARK AVENUE, floors 77–84 have two unequally-sized apartments per floor.

Floors 62-73 are split into two roughly equally-sized apartments,

with further variations lower down. It’s easy to imagine living in any of them.

The 28 and 29th floors are studio apartments that, as far as studio apartments go, are window rich. According to therealdeal.com

Developers CIM Group and Macklowe Properties have shoehorned 25 units with an average size of 472 square feet into the building’s lowest residential floors, on 28 and 29.

Here’s some plans. I particularly like the last one with its separate living and sleeping areas, defined kitchen and 200 sq.ft of glazing. Or the top left one with 300 sq.ft of glazing!

When it gets this small, it’s difficult to say “column-free” anymore. I can relate.

The challenge is to incorporate the significant columns into the layout and I’d say Viñoly’s team have done okay. Any studio apartment having more than one place in which to be is an excellent studio apartment.

3. Slenderness

It’s impossible to talk about height without noting 432 PARK AVENUE’s slenderness ratio of 15:1 – well outside the accepted limit of 11:1. It’s its slenderness, rather than its height that makes it so striking. We are unused to buildings looking like this. I mention slenderness after Free Plan because I first thought this slenderness ratio had been achieved by an increasing number of shear walls as one goes down the building. I assumed upper floors would be full-floor apartments, and that below them would be increasingly smaller apartments separated by an increasing number of shear walls affording lateral rigidity. It doesn’t seem so. It’s columns and core all the way up.

4. Structural Stability

I admire structural stability in a building. WSP are the engineers.


Engineered by WSP, the structure consists of an architecturally-exposed concrete tube system, coupled to a central core with concrete strength of more than 14,000 psi.


To control the perception of lateral motion under high wind conditions, a series of openings throughout the structure have been used to improve its aerodynamics, the design of which was achieved by means of wind-tunnel testing.

These are every 15 or so floors whereas if the location of mechanical floors had been determined by the mechanicals alone, there’d be a double-height mechanical floor every 20. Wherever there are these double mechanical floors, there are “outriggers” to tie the core to the columns.


The name implies they’re some sort of open triangulated truss – which they’d have to be to not impede airflow. They don’t seem to be in place yet.


Whatever they turn out to be, it seems they’ll will work to reduce sway and bring the building sufficiently in line so two tuned mass dampers can deal with the rest.

Page 39 of the structural analysis peer review report reveals the tuned mass dampers to be big tanks of water sloshing around on top. The amount of water is equivalent to (a whopping) 1% of the mass of the building whereas TAIPEI 101’s famous tuned mass pendulum is only 0.1%.


Although the core uses 14,000 psi high-strength concrete (which is getting towards the top end of the scale), the real work is done by the perimeter which is essentially a tube shell with windows punched through it.

Imperial Strength Metric Equivalent
2,000 psi 14 MPa
2.500 psi 18 MPa
3,000 psi 20 MPa
3,500 psi 25 MPa
4,000 psi 30 MPa
5,000 psi 35 MPa
6,000 psi 40 MPa
7,000 psi 50 MPa
8,000 psi 55 MPa
10,000 psi 70 MPa
12,000 psi 80 MPa
19,000 psi 130 MPa
36,000 psi 250 MPa

The floors and outrigger structures link core and perimeter to create yet more rigidity but the peer analysis of the WSP engineering report says that only 12% of the resistance to the “overturning moment” is carried by the core. Nice work, guys.


4. Residential terraces

The section drawing contains the text “residential terrace beyond” wherever there is a mechanical level.

We don’t yet know where or how all the mechanical stuff will fit in but if these spaces have to be open to the air for reasons of air handling and wind loading, then why not give the residents a place to feel the wind on their faces and perhaps even have a cigarette if their ultra-high-net-worth partner won’t let them smoke in the apartment? Nice idea.

5. Symmetry

Symmetry is good – especially with structure. You never know which way the wind’s going to blow. But also, you never know which direction people might prefer to look. Sure, a majority will probably want to look at Central Park or show people they have a view of Central Park. Of course, for the people with the full-floor penthouses, direction of view doesn’t really matter. However, if you check the north point on the full-floor penthouse plans above, the living rooms face south east which probably means that direction’s lights up better at night when the proper entertaining and visiting is to be done. In the end, it’s a matter of personal preference. Some people like their bedrooms to face east. Others, any other direction but. I’ve always found there’s more of a sensation of height if there’s another tall building close by to look at or into. Another thing I’ve found is that being able to see a long distance only counts on days when it’s possible to see a long distance and your windows are clean. This is unlikely to be a day you have visitors.

But treating all directions equally is a good thing. Marianne and Edward shows us how people can find the same joy looking at different things. ONE57 assumes that all people must find interest in and see value in visually owning Central Park but that isn’t the case. Although apartment plans may dictate what gets viewed from what room, the shape and surface of 432 PARK AVENUE don’t infer any preference for any one direction over another. This is good.

6. Smoothness

Philip Johnson once said re. tall buildings that, “whatever you do, you get a plaid”. I think we’ve moved on. It’s not about mullion proportions now anymore than it is about load bearing walls. It’s about window openings, columns, slabs and core working as an integrated structure. Reducing the wind load means ridding the facade of decorative protuberances that increase it.


We can expect more refined iterations of this typology to be smoother still, with windows more flush. There’s still room for graphic posturing such as ONE 57 but now we have a structural case for the elimination of 3D ornament. Hurrah!


7. The Absence of a Conscious Facade

It’s no accident that the building elevations look like this, but although the above render looks like cladding, it is actually unadorned concrete. The window units fit into gaps between the structural members. Technically speaking, the entire outer wall is a shell and the windows fit into openings punched into that shell.

150524606.DiEcUgvX.hm1and the window units fit into openings punched into that shell.


It’s the elimination of an entire building element because it’s a functional redundancy. I suspect this is what Ludwig Hilberseimer was getting at with his Chicago Tribune project


although people could only see it in terms of a claimed aesthetic redundancy without realising they were the same thing.

8. Floor Plan Efficiency

Much art went into shrinking the size of the core of 432 PARK AVENUE. Only five elevators for a 92-storey building!


Skyscraper.org tells us that, because they have fewer apartments per floor, slender buildings have the advantage of requiring fewer elevators.

A compact core is desirable to the developer, because the core represents costs, while all the other floor area that the new owner will purchase represents revenue.


In order to create the most compact service core, the architects developed their own design for a prefabricated switchback scissor stair that utilised the minimal stair height clearances in the most minimised footprint. Working with the stair industry, a shallow steel-framed stair was designed with rated high-impact shaft wall enclosure that achieved the thinnest profile possible.


9. Vertical Efficiency

Despite its concern for the world of physical forces, 432 PARK AVENUE shows none of its regard for them. It rises resolutely vertical for 420 metres and then stoops. It neither narrows nor tapers as it rises, and acknowledges neither gravity nor its own weight. Its shape and structure resist analogies to plants and spires and the metaphorical baggage of growth, faith and hope they carry. Rather than ‘reaching’, ‘climbing’, or ‘striving’ in Deco-gothic aspiration to greater heights, it simply towers.

Importantly, none of its space is wasted on vanity space or uninhabitable spires. CTBUH has had a bee in its bonnet about this topic. Perhaps a sense of proportion and a % breakdown in terms of gross floor area might be more informative.


Although, I’d respectfully suggest they quit championing tallness for tallnesses sake and stop producing diagrams like this.


10. Marketing Innovation

According to therealdeal.com

Developers CIM Group and Macklowe Properties have shoehorned 25 units with an average size of 472 square feet into the building’s lowest residential floors, on 28 and 29.

Here’s some plans. I particularly like the last one with its separate living and sleeping areas, defined kitchen and 200 sq.ft of glazing. I’ve lived in worse.

The units, meant to house staff for the owners of the apartments above, have seen the largest appreciation in asking prices for any individual units in the last year, information from the New York Attorney General’s Real Estate Finance Bureau shows.

And indeed it does. Apartment 28B (546 sq.ft; 50.7sqm) is now being marketed for 50% more than its original offering price a year ago whereas Apartment 39D at twice the size has appreciated in value by only half that. The price of the uppermost penthouse has risen only 15% $82.55 million to $95 million, in the two years since July 2012.

per sqftWhat does this mean? Does it mean that rich people want to give their staff the best accommodation possible? I don’t think so. It might just be a way of squeezing some value out of residential space without much of a view. I’ve always been intrigued by this apartment interior by Maya Lin. It was mentioned in on of those Architecture Now! books circa 1995.

maya lin washington

The accompanying text said the owner bought it as a surprise present for his wife to use to rest when on [gruelling] shopping excursions into Manhattan. Much value has been added to this windowless space. The mountain of what I imagine to be travertine gravel is a nice way of saying you have floor space and dollars to waste. Genius! I also admire the photo of a view substituting for a real one. It’s a reminder that one’s in Manhattan but thankfully removed from the visual noise. Much more restful that way. A minus was converted into a plus.

Elsewhere, it’s often the case that gyms and other leisure facilities are on the less desirable lower levels. Other developments are offering lower-level office spaces to residents.


The studio apartments at 432 PARK AVENUE can be marketed in many ways.

Kirk Henckels, director of the high-end-focused Stribling Private Brokerage, said he expected buyers at 432 Park to purchase staff units for uses other than housing their employees.

After decades of promoting size and view, real estate brokers seem suddenly dumbfounded, as if they don’t really know how to market this exciting new real-estate product. Imagine that! A spare room with its own lease! It can be used as an office, boudoir, camera obscure or S-M dungeon. Some people with no shame might even want to buy them to live in! The possibilities are endless.

Whatever happens in these remote rooms, they’re hot property. Given the profits to be made, we can expect to see more of the same. Perhaps we’ll soon see full towers of 500 sq.ft studios for $1.5 mil with only a token full-floor penthouse at the top to supposedly add prestige when it’s really the loss-leader?

11. A New Building Typology

Structural efficiencies mean economic advantages. Viñoly’s outfit is planning something similar at 125 Greenwich Street. This time the engineers are DeSimone Consulting Engineers, PLLC.


It looks much like 432 PARK AVENUE. And so it should! At last we have a new building typology with known parameters that can be continually improved upon. It’s an opportunity to perfect something for once, to focus on making something better, and without getting distracted by the next diverting thing.


Much like 12th century Bologna.

The Great Filter

Here’s a quick fly-through of The Universe. It’s fairly awesome.

We’ve recently found The Universe to be a bit more awesome.

Ahem… so then, WHERE IS EVERYBODY?!


This is the Fermi ParadoxThe apparent size and age of the universe suggests that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist. However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it. 

We here on Earth have been announcing our presence consciously since 1974 with messages such as the Arecibo Message that looked like this, colour added.


It shows how intelligent we are by indicating

  1. We can count from (1) to ten (10)
  2. We know the numbers of protons of the elements in DNA
  3. We know the formulae for the sugars and bases in the nucleotides of DNA
  4. We know the number of nucleotides in DNA and how they form,
  5. A selfie of a human, the dimension (physical height) of an average man, and the human population of Earth
  6. A graphic of the Solar System indicating where the message is coming from
  7. A graphic of the Arecibo radio telescope and the dimension (the physical diameter) of the transmitting antenna dish

The message has ten-fingered DNA-centric written all over it but it doesn’t matter – by the time it gets to where it’s been sent, its intended destination will have moved – which is not so clever. [Perhaps other "intelligences" are trying and missing as well?] In any case, SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence hasn’t turned up anything. Nada. Niente. Nanimo. We seem to be, for all intents and purposes, alone in the universe.

In 1968, Erich von Däniken didn’t think so.


His book Chariots of the Gods? suggested that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were given to them by ancient astronauts who were welcomed as gods.



And so on. I haven’t heard much of von Däniken’s “WHO ELSE BUT ALIENS COULD POSSIBLY HAVE DONE THIS!” jumpy conclusions recently so they’ve probably been debunked by later books such as this.


In 1996, Robert Hanson returned to Fermi’s question of “Where are they then?” and gave it some thought. He concluded there must be something stopping life from spreading throughout the universe as we feel it ought to. His line of thinking went like this.

With no evidence of intelligent life other than ourselves, it appears that the process of starting with a star and ending with “advanced explosive lasting life” must be unlikely. This implies that at least one of the following steps must be improbable. 

  1. The right star system (including organics and potentially habitable planets)
  2. Reproductive molecules (e.g., RNA)
  3. Simple (prokaryotic) single-cell life
  4. Complex (archaeatic and eukaryotic) single-cell life
  5. Sexual reproduction
  6. Multi-cell life
  7. Tool-using animals with big brains
  8. Where we are now
  9. Colonization explosion.

He concluded:

This is bad news. Really bad.


It means that instead of developing warp drive and boldly going, it’s more likely that intelligent life in the The Universe invariably discovers industry and destroys their environments out of greed and poisons themselves to extinction. Alternatively – and this is no better – they discover nuclear weapons without first overcoming their ideological and/or tribal differences and thus manage to annihilate themselves. Evidence? Well, we’ve nearly managed to do both in our short time on the planet.

It’s not all gloomy though. Glimmers of hope are provided by counterarguments relying by the “it’s just that we see no evidence” loophole in the Fermi Paradox. Absence of evidence is’nt evidence of absence, they say. It’s a weak argument, but possible. It might just take too much resources and time for any civilisation to colonise the Universe. Earth might be too far out of the way or not worth a visit. Earth might be considered too troublesome or primitive to bother. Or any or all of these. The only counterargument that really interests me is

“Truly intelligent life might just want to keep to itself.”

The idea that intelligent life would by definition want to endlessly explore and colonise as much as possible is typical of us projecting our own aggressive and colonial past upon other inhabitants of The Universe, driven by our belief that appropriating other people’s habitats and exploiting them is A GOOD THING.

This is our prehistory of human life spreading across this planet. It’s our documented history of civilisation, and it’s also our modern history of conflict and aggression. It’s all our histories but we can’t assume other intelligences might or might want to act in the same way. In fact, we scare ourselves when we do.


1950s stories of alien visitors doing to us what we would most likely would have done to them are routinely interpreted as the Cold War fear of “The Other” with the added frisson of impending annihilation due to the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).


The 1996 reworking of 1984’s V was the most recent outing of our fears of being done unto.


Friendly or otherwise, we seem programmed to not like people who are not like us.


We don’t look forward to actual meetings but nevertheless continue to scan space for radio transmissions that don’t appear random. This is what SETI does. 


We can understand that a truly advanced society might not want to build engineering mega-structures visible from other planets or galaxies. A truly advanced society might even turn the lights off at night.


We find it harder to understand that truly advanced society might not even want to know us. They may be inward looking rather than outgoing, or more interested in quality over quantity, or value comprehensive performance over visual appearance. This is the position of Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute. He says

the possibly flawed assumption is when we say that highly visible construction projects are an inevitable outcome of intelligence. It could be that it’s the engineering of the small, rather than the large, that is inevitable. This follows from the laws of inertia (smaller machines are faster, and require less energy to function) as well as the speed of light (small computers have faster internal communication). It may be–and this is, of course, speculation–that advanced societies are building small technology and have little incentive or need to rearrange the stars in their neighbourhoods, for instance.

In other words, advanced societies might simply just get on with sustaining and improving their societies, keeping to themselves, and developing the technologies they need in order to function in harmony with their neighbours and in balance with their resources. This is difficult for us to understand. When we try to visualise it we tend to appropriate the look and feel of primitive societies we think achieved that,img_0967

or, less convincingly, ancient civilizations

195bt5f7ebf3xjpgor, more recently, the Amish.

divergent2This last example is interesting. Check out those houses! The problem of shelter appears solved as best it can for available levels of technology and resources. This Divergent imagery makes a virtue out of not making of statements of fashion and individuality. It’s fiction, but encouraging nonetheless.

abnegationActually, It’s been what Misfits has been saying all along, but it’s good to see these ideas get out into society from a different angle. Consider this next photo from our collective image bank.


To be fair, these buildings were once thought of as virtuous but, for many then and since, these were boring buildings and, by association, the people who lived in them were boring people for whom individuality and artistic sensitivity meant nothing. The surrealism of the Divergent imagery comes from wrongly assuming that human virtue only possible in the presence of artistic architectural invention. (This is the default position of many architects.)

We can accept an advanced society being defined as one that’s found a happy equilibrium between existence and resources, but we’re still not used to the idea that such a society could be achieved far easier than we can imagine and at a level lower than we expect. But it’s a start. The idea has been planted. Once again.

Architecture still has a long way to go if it is going to improve our chances of surviving a Great Filter of the climate change sort. Even the words we use to talk about buildings mirror our colonialist, capitalist and militaristic mindset. All of the following are seen as for the GOOD. These are the words that change descriptions into narratives.

EXPLORE is the preferred verb to describe the act of finding solutions.
EXPLOIT is what the solution does, particularly with topography and views.

STRATEGY is what a plan for achieving something is now known as.
INTERVENTION is something thought to be desperately needed, and that one feels one ought to be thanked for having done.
WAR on poverty, homelessness, etc.

DEVELOPMENT is always positive, a good thing
ADDING VALUE is losing its abstract shades of meaning.
STAKEHOLDER is gaining abstract shades of meaning.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF  is the clever application of knowledge and intelligence
VIBRANCE / VIBRANCY is the ambient bustle and hum of low-level commercial activity.

The very words we use to talk about architecture exemplify a mindset that might not be compatible with the long-term survival of the human race. This mindset is everywhere.


The use of “we”, “our” and “America” makes this message no more than a local wish for a global problem. There’s the implication that the planet is somehow at fault and that the cause of its warming is external. As we know, anything external is threatening, and necessarily destructive. It is the mindset of war, once again. It’s like those nasty polluting Chinese are out to get us this time.


Scaremonering? Of course. What I like about the concept of the Great Filter is how it forces us to focus. To talk of “saving” the planet for future generations misses the point. If the Great Filter exists, then there won’t be future generations to inhabit whatever’s left.

The Great Filter takes no prisoners. There’s no such thing as semi-annihilation. The concept of The Great Filter restates Pascal’s Wager for our times in terms of actions and consequences that have no ambiguity.

The Great Filter either exists or it doesn’t. If it exists, then it’d be prudent to do the right thing so we don’t get filtered out of existence. If it doesn’t exist we will never know and so we have no choice but to believe it does exist and to live accordingly. There’s nothing to lose except a few luxuries. 

tumblr_static_earth-space-sun“… to live accordingly.” This is a philosophical justification for not only environmentally responsible building construction but for an environmentally responsible architectural aesthetic as well.

If the Great Filter exists, then it’s not that such an architecture will serve us better in the long run, but rather that it will help ensure there is a long run.


Let’s ignore dark matter – we don’t know what it is anyway. Let’s hear it for Helium! It’s the second most abundant element in THE Universe. So YAY! PARTY ON!, and etceteras. Helium is 24% of the mass of all elements. Most helium in the universe is helium-4 resulting from the Big Bang but the nuclear fusion of hydrogen in stars – not unlike our own – also creates large amounts of new helium. Your voice would sound very funny on the surface of The Sun. Post a video to YouTube. I dare you.


Hydrogen is the only element lighter than helium and its increased buoyancy made hydrogen an economical choice for airships. In hindsight, this was not a good idea.


The use of helium in more recent, smiley airships is well known. Hurrah!


We have treehugger to thank for this rundown on what airship proposals are currently on offer. HybridAirVehicles are responsible for the Airlander.


Worldwide Aeros Corp is also doing some good work. The attraction of these craft is that they require much less fuel to take off and stay airborne. Their disadvantage is that their necessarily less streamlined shape limits their speed.


Greendiary presents us with some less-grounded visions of future airship transport but we’ll stop it there.


One new use for helium is in hard drives. Solid state memories may one day make hard drives obsolete but, until then, helium-sealed hard drives have advantages over conventional ones.


The lower density of helium lets the disk spin with less turbulence. Less turbulence means less vibration and less noise. Lower turbulence means less friction which means less heat which means less cooling which means lower power consumption. Nice.

Regardless, the currently most important use of Helium is to cool certain metals to the extremely low temperatures required for superconductivity. The Large Hadron Collider at CERN requires 96 metric tons of liquid helium to maintain its temperature at 1.9°K.


The most vital example is the superconducting magnets used for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A typical MRI scanner uses 1,700 litres of liquid helium, which needs to be topped up periodically. You may need one of these one day.


Helium is useful.

On our beloved planet, Helium is only 5.2 parts per million in the atmosphere. Helium-4 nucleii formed by the natural radioactive decay of mainly thorium and uranium are trapped with natural gas in concentrations of up to 7% by volume and extracted commercially by a process called fractional distillation. Like oil and gas, Helium is a finite resource and is one of the few elements with escape velocity, meaning that once released into the atmosphere, it escapes into space. Never knew that. It cannot be artificially synthesised.

A company called Cyrogenic has developed a way to use far less helium to cool superconducting magnets. Apparently.


On the left side of the image above, you can see Helium produced by the decay of Uranium and Thorium. Much of this gets trapped in natural gas reserves and is extracted as a by-product when the natural gas is tapped. A natural gas source must contain at least 0.3% helium to be considered as a potential helium source.


Helium Resources (Billion Cubic Meters)(from USGS Mineral Commodity Survey)

United States 20.6
Qatar 10.1
Algeria 8.2

Russia 6.8
Canada 2.0
China 1.1

Here’s where it is in the US.


Here’s the trends for its extraction, production, export and consumption. It’s running out. We’re using it faster than the planet is making it. By 2050 there won’t be any more. I’m not the first to point this out, but I’m in good company.

Another Cambridge lecturer, William Nuttall, called for the establishment of an International Helium Agency to prevent squandering the resource.

Royal Institution’s 2012 Christmas Lectures, Peter Wothers, will use the series to argue against wasting valuable helium gas in party balloons.

Don’t want be a party pooper, but it might be an idea to save some.


Whimsical media fillers aside, architecture has little dependence upon helium.


• • •

• • •


Food as Art

In Alicante there’s a restaurant named after it’s founder-chef Quique Dacosta Restaurant. You can find out more about Dacosta’s food on the excellent alifewortheating site from where these next images came. Here’s a taster.


Dehydrated watermelon re-hydrated in charred piquillo sauce with mustard seeds.


A collection of mushrooms and greens laced with black truffles julienne growing from an edible dirt floor.


Lobes of foie gras mixed with raw local prawns, decorated with candied leaves and flowers.


A miniature sweet pea forest of almonds, mushrooms, small flowers, black truffle, and edible dirt.

Dacosta’s food is pretty and tasty. The emphasis seems to be on excellent seasonal produce, which puts it in the same realm as Japanese kaiseki-ryōri懐石料理) except the courses all come separately.  With kaiseki-ryori, you just appreciate the seasonal flavours, write haiku about the fleetingness of transitory pleasures and so on. It would be considered vulgar to get full on it – as it is with sushi.


Until recently, there had also been the legendary restaurant El Bulli which perhaps took food a bit further out there than Dacosta or even the Japanese did. There’s a film. el-bulli

According to Entertainment Weekly, it’s “a celebration of the human desire to turn food into art”. Hmm.

The El Bulli website lives on.

In the mid-1990s a new style of cuisine began to be forged. Today, this style has been wholly consolidated and may be defined in the following terms:

1.  Cooking is a language through which all the following properties may be expressed: harmony, creativity, happiness, beauty, poetry, complexity, magic, humour, provocation and culture.2.  The use of top quality products and technical knowledge to prepare them properly are taken for granted.3.  All products have the same gastronomic value, regardless of their price.4.  Preference is given to vegetables and seafood, with a key role also being played by dairy products, nuts and other products that make up a light form of cooking. In recent years red meat and large cuts of poultry have been very sparingly used.5.  Although the characteristics of the products may be modified (temperature, texture, shape, etc.), the aim is always to preserve the purity of their original flavour, except for processes that call for long cooking or seek the nuances of particular reactions such as the Maillard reaction.6.  Cooking techniques, both classic and modern, are a heritage that the cook has to know how to exploit to the maximum.7.  As has occurred in most fields of human evolution down the ages, new technologies are a resource for the progress of cooking.

8.  The family of stocks is being extended. Together with the classic ones, lighter stocks performing an identical function are now being used (waters, broths, consommés, clarified vegetable juices, nut milk, etc.).

9.  The information given off by a dish is enjoyed through the senses; it is also enjoyed and interpreted by reflection.

10.  Taste is not the only sense that can be stimulated: touch can also be played with (contrasts of temperatures and textures), as well as smell, sight (colours, shapes, trompe d’oeil, etc.), whereby the five senses become one of the main points of reference in the creative cooking process.

11.  The technique-concept search is the apex of the creative pyramid.

12.  Creation involves teamwork. In addition, research has become consolidated as a new feature of the culinary creative process.

13.  The barriers between the sweet and savoury world are being broken down. Importance is being given to a new cold cuisine, particularly in the creation of the frozen savoury world.

14.  The classical structure of dishes is being broken down: a veritable revolution is underway in first courses and desserts, closely bound up with the concept of symbiosis between the sweet and savoury world; in main dishes the “product-garnish-sauce” hierarchy is being broken down.15.  A new way of serving food is being promoted. The dishes are finished in the dining room by the serving staff. In other cases the diners themselves participate in this process.16.  Regional cuisine as a style is an expression of its own geographical and cultural context as well as its culinary traditions. Its bond with nature complements and enriches this relationship with its environment.17.  Products and preparations from other countries are subjected to one’s particular style of cooking.18.  There are two main paths towards attaining harmony of products and flavours: through memory (connection with regional cooking traditions, adaptation, deconstruction, former modern recipes), or through new combinations.19.  A culinary language is being created which is becoming more and more ordered, that on some occasions establishes a relationship with the world and language of art.20.  Recipes are designed to ensure that harmony is to be found in small servings.

21.  Decontextualisation, irony, spectacle, performance are completely legitimate, as long as they are not superficial but respond to, or are closely bound up with, a process of gastronomic reflection.

22.  The menu de dégustation is the finest expression of avant-garde cooking. The structure is alive and subject to changes. Concepts such as snacks, tapas, pre-desserts, morphs, etc., are coming into their own.

23.  Knowledge and/or collaboration with experts from different fields (gastronomic culture, history, industrial design, etc.,) is essential for progress in cooking. In particular collaboration with the food industry and the scientific world has brought about fundamental advances. Sharing this knowledge among cooking professionals has contributed to this evolution.

Food and shelter are the fundamentals for human existence so I was wondering if any of the above has any meaning or lessons for shelter – I mean, in a real sense and not as some loose-fit architectural analogy. Here’s my picks.  

1.  Cooking is a language through which all the following properties may be expressed: harmony, creativity, happiness, beauty, poetry, complexity, magic, humour, provocation and culture.

When food is being sold as art/experience/performance, it’s not surprising nutrition is ignored. In the world of art architecture, physical comfort isn’t considered a property worth expressing.

2.  The use of top quality products and technical knowledge to prepare them properly are taken for granted.

This kind of thinking guarantees the role of the artisan and the continuation of value-added products. Buildings would be prohibitively expensive if all construction materials and processes had to be of the highest possible quality? The situation we have is one where expensive buildings are flaunted by their owners. The Lloyds Building wasn’t cheap. Neither was St. Mary Axe, for what it’s worth.

3.  All products have the same gastronomic value, regardless of their price.

If this is rephrased as “all building materials have the same architectural value, regardless of cost” then this happens. Every now and then some formerly low-rent material gets used in a pretentious or possibly ironic way. Remember the OSB wall from MVRDV’s 1994 Double House in Utrect? In passing, it’s strange how little influence such usages have. This was a good idea but nothing much changed in the 20 years since. Avant-garde is a misnomer. It’s rarely a precursor of garde.


4.  Preference is given to vegetables and seafood, with a key role also being played by dairy products, nuts and other products that make up a light form of cooking. In recent years red meat and large cuts of poultry have been very sparingly used.

Could we perhaps say “Preference is given to inexpensive and sustainable materials, with a key role being played by renewable timbers, recyclables and other inexpensive products that make up a light form of architecture. In recent years, rare stone and hardwoods have been very sparingly used?”  We possibly could say that in the case of the buildings of Lacaton & Vassal, but otherwise … no.

lapatie house interior

6.  Cooking techniques, both classic and modern, are a heritage that the cook has to know how to exploit to the maximum.

6.  Construction techniques, both classic and modern, are a heritage that the architect has to know how to exploit to the maximum.

This goes without saying, although I question the use of the word “exploit”. Nobody expects more than they input. And it’s not right to use the language of capitalist economics to describe supposedly artistic endeavour. “To use”, and to use appropriately and efficiently is sufficient. Perhaps I’m old skool. I may stand corrected.

7.  As has occurred in most fields of human evolution down the ages, new technologies are a resource for the progress of cooking.

7.  As has occurred in most fields of human evolution down the ages, new technologies are a resource for the progress of building.

I’m fine with this even though what constitutes progress is a question still to be hashed out in architecture. We’re being led to believe it’s a series of diverting novelties serving no greater purpose than mild media titillation – which is fine, if acknowledged by purveyors and consumers as such. Do we just get what we’re given? Is there nothing more substantial on offer?

8.  The family of stocks is being extended. Together with the classic ones, lighter stocks performing an identical function are now being used (waters, broths, consommés, clarified vegetable juices, nut milk, etc.).

The use of less-expensive and less-complicated substitutes is a good thing in any industry. If something else does the job just as well then there’s no need to continue using something just out of habit.

10.  Taste is not the only sense that can be stimulated: touch can also be played with (contrasts of temperatures and textures), as well as smell, sight (colours, shapes, trompe d’oeil, etc.), whereby the five senses become one of the main points of reference in the creative cooking process.

10.  Sight is not the only sense that can be satisfied: the five senses become the points of reference in the architectural experience.

Looking at photos of buildings is a bit like looking at photos of food. It only tells us one fifth of what we can experience.

17th Course: Beets

11.  The technique-concept search is the apex of the creative pyramid.

We’re familiar with this one. I still disagree and maintain that creativity can exist in creating something from fewer or less-expensive resources. If the objective is merely sensory pleasure, then creativity is merely the invention of novel ways to achieve that. Sadly, this is the working definition of creativity we have now.

12.  Creation involves teamwork. In addition, research has become consolidated as a new feature of the culinary creative process.

This sounds familiar. If the creative endgame is to produce an endless stream of novelty without copying oneself then I guess working on new ways to be novel is going to take up a lot of your time.

16.  Regional cuisine as a style is an expression of its own geographical and cultural context as well as its culinary traditions. Its bond with nature complements and enriches this relationship with its environment.

16.  Regional traditions are an expression of its own geographical and cultural context as well as its architectural traditions. Its bond with nature complements and enriches this relationship with its environment.

This is good. The alternative is Globalization food (or multi-national food) as in one-food-suits-all. Here in the UAE we have the MacArabia

macarabiaand over in Japan they have the Teriyaki Burger, but that’s not the point.


Meanwhile, over in India …


19.  A culinary language is being created which is becoming more and more ordered, that on some occasions establishes a relationship with the world and language of art.

19.  An architectural language is being created which is becoming more and more ordered, that on some occasions establishes a relationship with the world and language of art.

In the middle of the 1970s some architects, Peter Eisenman not least of all, championed relationships between architecture and language. It fizzled out. Or rather, everybody jumped ship to Post Modernism and the cachet gained from its loose-fit analogies with Post Modern literature. This was followed by the Deconstructivist bandwagon. Nobody seems to be aligning themselves with anything anymore. It’s not a bad thing. Although what’s taken its place in the worlds of art and architecture is the belief that if you make a big noise then you must be good. Like artists do.

Damien Hirst

This is a bad thing, but it’s no worse than before. It’s just more noticeable.

21.  Decontextualisation, irony, spectacle, performance are completely legitimate, as long as they are not superficial but respond to, or are closely bound up with, a process of gastronomic reflection.

21.  Decontextualisation, irony, spectacle, performance are completely legitimate, as long as they are not superficial but respond to, or are closely bound up with, a process of architectural reflection.

We also tried this once at the end of the 1970s and into the 80s – it was pants. It couldn’t help but be superficial. Here’s Venturi’s 1963 Guild House complete with its ironic golden television aerial-sculpture-commentary/insult.


23.  Knowledge and/or collaboration with experts from different fields (gastronomic culture, history, industrial design, etc.,) is essential for progress in cooking. In particular collaboration with the food industry and the scientific world has brought about fundamental advances. Sharing this knowledge among cooking professionals has contributed to this evolution.

23.  Knowledge and/or collaboration with experts from different fields is essential for progress in architecture. In particular collaboration with the building industry and the scientific world has brought about fundamental advances. Sharing this knowledge among architectural professionals has contributed to this evolution.

We can only hope. This post is an attempt to see what ideas can or might be shared between food as art and building as architecture. These quick reflections do hide some major differences between the worlds of avant-garde food and architecture.

  • Adrian Ferrià of ElBulli ensured that, through his prices and his booking system, it was possible for anyone (who had the time and means to access his restaurant) could in theory get a table. Prices were held to €200 per head which meant running at a loss. The pre-booking system was by all accounts fair. He was selling rare experiences but they were accessible to all. It is not so with architecture.
  • Ferrià used to close his restaurant for six months each year to research and test the menu for the following six months. This does not happen with buildings. Research and production are concurrent and dislocated. A building coming online might be the result of dead-end themes and explorations of half a decade earlier. What gets built may not be the genuine product of research performed even though it may be presented as such.

Ferrià’s business model has been scrutinised by Harvard Business School here.

  • The inconvenient location of El Bulli made the two-hour drive through the mountains into part of the dining experience.
  • If one listens to customers then it will never be possible to surprise them.
  • Quirks and inefficiencies are part of the appeal.

I’m not suggesting everybody eat food like this. This are experimental food experiences for interested persons. Food like this is not going to eradicate world hunger. Notice how there was no mention of nutrition? It’s all about the flavour and the look. There’s every reason not to like food like this but what I admire is how it doesn’t pretend to have any kind of social function. And how its creators aren’t claiming that theirs is the only true food and that all other food in the world doesn’t deserve to be called food.

• • •

If there is a place in the world for art-food, then there is also a place in the world for many other types of food. We’re familiar with fast food. We know all about convenience food even though sometimes it quicker to make something from scratch than boil something in a bag. We’ve had various restaurants offering regional cuisines. There’s the Danish restaurant Noma that, according to their Wikipedia entry, uses local and seasonal ingredients foraged from the seashore and forests. (Check their website here.)


We are already exposed to the full range of international food. We are used to vegetarian restaurants and organic restaurants that emphasise an ideological and/or health dimension to what we eat. There are now gluten free restaurants as well. And restaurants where everything on the menu is 500 calories or less.

Grilled mackerel

Grilled mackerel with green beans – 335 calories

If all these different ways of doing food can exist on the same planet, then I think there’s room for an architecture that’s good for us. It’s always been there at the top of this blog.

The built environment is always going to have its bread buildings and its cake buildings, its caviar and its junk. Somewhere in the middle, there has to be a “nutritious” architecture that makes us feel good because it is good for us – an architecture that does The Shelter Thing well and that doesn’t cost the earth. This is what we care about.