Category Archives: Food

these two are supposed to be fundamental to human existence. an integrated solution might be a good idea.

The Dacha

One response to urban lives characterised by work and routine is to take a break from it all. Some people retreat to their country or weekend houses, others perhaps book a hotel or go to a timeshare in some foreign country. Urban living in Russia is also characterised by work and routine but Russians don’t do any of the above if they want a break from it. They go to their dacha.

The Russian word dacha (дача) is usually over-translated as country house, implying something grander than is usually the case. It was once the case however, for dacha date back to the empire era. The name is said to have the same Latin root as data – that which is given – with the giving done by a feudal landlord to people in favour. This is Utkina Dacha, the land for which was granted in the middle of the 18th century to Agafokleya Poltoratskaya and her husband Mark Poltoratsky as reward for their involvement in opera productions.


Here’s a pre-revolution dacha I’ve mentioned before. It was designed by Simon and Leonid Vesnin and completed a year after Greene & Greene’s 1908 Gamble House.


As with most country houses and summer weekend houses, the historic dacha treated nature as nothing more than something refreshing to look at.


The general population was only allowed to have dacha in Khruschev era in the 1960s. Land for this new breed of dacha was gifted by companies from land that could be used for little other purpose.

Dacha use land that would otherwise be wasted. 

Power companies, for example, gifted land close to or below the high-voltage power lines that criss-cross the country. Railways would gift land near their tracks. Other institutions and companies might purchase land from companies such as these and redistribute it. A belt of dachas follows motorways and train lines out of every major city. Dacha are rarely more than an hour away by major transportation route.


Access is generally by train, but the trains are not commuter trains but non-express intercity trains.


Dacha can of course be accessed by vehicle but since they exist on land that can often be used for no other purpose, the roads to access them allow for the honest use of off-road vehicles.


The convenience of accessing dacha is what makes them work.

And work they do. The initial function of these working dacha was food production because of shortages of foodstuffs back then. Vegetables didn’t care if they were close to railway or high-voltage lines. Working dacha are in the countryside, are used on weekends, and people do retreat to them but it is wrong to think of working dacha and historic dacha as the same. 

This gifting of land for practical reasons had a political slant. In 1962 Soviet armed functionaries brutally suppressed local food riots in the event known as the Novocherkassk massacre. Gifting people land shifted the onus on food production back to them. They could devote their energies to feeding themselves rather than rioting. In English we call this killing two birds with one stone. In Russia they say kill two hares in one shot (убить одним выстрелом двух зайцев). This history of riot suppression is why 50% of all Russians and populations of the former Soviet Union have a dacha.


The production of food is still a major activity. This has two important consequences.

50% of Russians still have a strong connection with Nature. 

The pattern of occupancy of dacha reflects the growing season rather than the season. The cultivation that takes place is not gardening but the growing of food to eat and share. Wild strawberries are a bonus.


50% of Russians still have a strong connection to food production. 

The economic necessity to grow one’s own food has relaxed somewhat but it was never as if people returned to the city with a week’s worth of groceries. Economic benefits aside, it is a satisfying use of time and energy to grow vegetables as a leisure activity, and extremely satisfying to eat them afterwards,

along with all the drinking of berry-infused beverages that that entails.


A serious amount of food is nevertheless produced. *


Peak dacha probably occurred sometime immediately post-1990. The country moved away from apartment+hut and towards suburban house+garden. Nearly every family who desired a dacha could have one. There has been a marked drop-off in field surveying for new dacha plots.

This map shows the distribution of dacha around the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg. Pink is dacha largely within the 60km radius ring road (orange) but the geometry also follows high-voltage lines and railways, particularly to the south. New suburban development is in yellow and follows roads more closely than railways.

Yekaterinburg dacha belt

The working dacha is free from the tyranny of architecture.

Working dacha are pure vernacular. More often than not, the buildings are self-built from salvaged or recycled materials. There is a limited demand for inexpensive transportable and prefabricated structures as these lose their appeal below a definite economic threshold. The feeling is Why spend all that money on something you can build yourself?


Amongst a mosaic of huts, you’re therefore likely to see a converted bus or perhaps a railway car. Interiors are a composite of objects valued for their continued utility.


The working dacha has no need for architecture. Architecture offers nothing that could improve upon its vernacular intelligence and its handmade, salvaged or ad-hoc imperfections. It is liveable, practical and viable on the personal and social levels and sustainable on the ex-urban level and, as a consequence of that, the urban level.

The contemporary dacha is reverting to its historic origins as a summer weekend house for relaxing. Architects are getting involved. Owners of architecturalized dachas do not need or want to grow their own food and are unaware of themselves being cultivated by architects. You may have seen this one: “A family with two kids wanted a quiet retreat from the everyday busy life in the suburbs of Moscow.”


This architecturalized dacha is a weekend house as we know it. Nature is nothing more than something to look at. When the dacha becomes architecture, all that is useful is lost.


The working dacha and the architecturalised dacha are the results of opposing forces that can never be resolved. Downmarket and sensible occupy the opposite end of the spectrum to upmarket and folly, and are nourished by different atmospheres.

Fortunately, the working dacha is unlikely to disappear anytime soon if 50% of the population has one. This is a good thing because the city apartment + country hut combination has a lot more going for it than attempts to directly fuse urban living and Nature. 

1. The suburban house and garden

Working dacha are not primary residences but suburban houses are. The suburban house began with good intentions. This new housing product made possible by the convenience of train travel, took people just far enough out of the city so they could commute back to it. (In one of those twists of history, the unreliability and expense of privatised train travel in the UK is now making them less viable.)  The first suburban houses put more distance between them and urban tenements and less between the country estates further out. They were a perfect product for their times.


One of the attractions of the suburban house was the affectation of landowner abilities and rights to grow things. Another was to not have to do it to survive. Plants such as the hybrid tea rose were grown not for sustenance but for pleasure in that abstracted cultivation known as gardening. For many people however, gardening is a chore when combined with commuting and a day job. Suburban gardens rarely live up to their historic expectations.


Land with much potential to enhance life becomes a nuisance, and its capacity to produce either ignored or activelly suppressed.

Perhaps worse is its further abstraction into the world of ‘landscape gardening’.

2. The apartment+allotment

In the UK, an allotment is a piece of land initially allocated to the urban poor to grow food and feed themselves. The system began at the beginning of last century and, to some extent also makes use of land that cannot be used for any other purpose. These allotments are on the periphery of the factory land.


Although beneficial in many of the same ways as dacha, there are two main failings. The first is that the plots aren’t large enough. The standard size is said to be 250 sq.m which is about the size of a doubles tennis court. If continuously and intensively cultivated it might feed a family of five. (Refer to misfits’ architecture: Caories/m^3) The current average area is 154 sq.m.


The larger problem is that habitable structures are prohibited. The land may be otherwise unusable land close to railways or liable to flooding but it is too close to the city. Allowing habitable structures could do much to promote a different way of living. The British apartment+allotment has many of the advantages of dacha but does not go far enough.

3. Agricultural urbanism

Agricultural urbanism, community gardens, rooftop gardens and verge gardens are a new invention. The shared aim is to produce food on underused land in cities. Community gardens and window boxes provide visible veg. Rooftops can also be pressed into service but the shared goal of these approaches is the reconnection to food, a change of attitude and the awareness that food has to be grown somewhere by someone.

Using land leftover from inappropriate urban form is a good thing but there’s something slightly surreal about verge gardens. These are vegetables I’d definitely want to wash thorougly beforehand, even if I didn’t know that some plants are very good at absorbing and concentrating environmental toxins. Sunflowers, for example, excel at absorbing radioactive isotopes 90Sr and 137Cs. As for the plants, I can’t help thinking they would prefer to be somewhere else.

4. Vertical farming

If we want serious yields and not just herbs, garnishes and a warm fuzzy feeling then verge gardens and window boxes aren’t going to cut it. We need to upscale. Urban vertical farming has been proposed and there’s also much to recommend it. It’s battery farming for plants and, if nutritional value doesn’t suffer, then there might be a place for it. The problem is that food is still grown by someone else and comes from somewhere else, albeit via a shorter distribution system. There’s still serious infrastructure, investment, and numerous middlemen presumably taking their cut.


5. Tall buildings in parkland

Like the architecturalized dacha, growing food is something other people do. The tall building vision was all about aesthetically modified nature – parkland. Sunlight and fresh air and open space are good. Another good thing about them is that they can be used for many things at once. It is a waste of sunlight, air and land to grow plants such as grass for visual amenity value only.


Skyscrapers aren’t about to be placed in farmland anytime soon but, if they do, it’ll happen in China where (I forget the actual statistic) something astounding like 50 fifty-storey apartment blocks need to be brought online every week to accommodate net population increase. If land is better suited to growing food than buildings, and if buildings are better suited to housing people than plants, then the vertical village is the logical consequence.


• • •

None of these attempts to fuse the spaces occupied by plants and people have all of the advantages the apartment+dacha combination has. Those advantages arise from connecting the two types of space rather than attempting to fuse them.  

An urban apartment and a dacha complement each other beautifully. A weekly trip to the dacha to check and maintain the plants seems to fit their cycle as well as ours. It must be psychologically healthy to take a train out of town in the opposite direction to usual, to be in a rural or semi-rural environment and do different things that have their own satisfaction and rewards, and in one’s own time. I can only imagine that, at weekend’s end, one goes back to the city and sees afresh and appreciates anew the things that apartments, cities and infrastructure have to offer.

• • •

If they were lived in full-time, dacha would be a sustainable and resilient way of life very close to what we would call off-grid living.  

  • Dacha use land that would otherwise be wasted
  • Dacha use existing infrastructure
  • Dacha recycle and reuse and are an ecological and sustainable use of resources
  • Dacha are used to grow food
  • Dacha have an absence of architecture

When dacha are not lived in full-time, the apartment+dacha combination is a very useful urban unit and additional benefits arise from them being separate yet linked by a short train ride. 

  • Dacha provide the population with sustaining breaks of environment
  • Dacha respect the production of food as a noble human activity
  • Dacha teach an appreciation of Nature that involves working with Nature

By offering a break from full-time urban living, dacha balance it, complement it and thus help sustain it.


• • •

Further information:

An excellent glimpse into the world of the dacha is here on I loved the opening sentence: “Summer passed very quickly, as it usually does in Central Russia”, and this image.


See also: 

misfits’ architecture: Home Grown
misfits’ architecture: Calories/m^3
misfits’ architecture: Vertical Farmwash
misfits’ architecture: Food and Shelter


The Passivehaus Diet

“Man’s own metabolism is a renewable energy source which he can use freely as long as he exists. It is obvious therefore that it should be exploited for the heating of buildings.”
V. Korsgaard

One defining criteria of a passivhaus is 10W/m² maximum power to maintain 20°C internally when it’s -10°C outside. Within a passivhaus, the heat contributed by the human body is just one of the many energy transactions that occur.

We eat, we heat. The amount of that heat can be quantified – given certain assumptions.

metabolic rate


This tells us the body generates heat to compensate for heat lost to the environment via metabolic processes a.k.a. living. When it’s colder, our bodies make more heat to make us feel less cold. Putting some clothes on is a good idea.


It’s a good idea because more, thicker and fitted clothing ‘keeps the cold out’ by slowing the rate of heat loss. This site explains the following graph in more detail.


When it’s hot, evaporative cooling driven by sweat and air movement prevent the body from overheating and fewer, lighter, and looser-fitting clothes are a good idea. Around the world, vernacular architectures have developed as extensions of these principles and also keep people dry and safe. This is what makes them buildings and not clothing or fashion.


The ideal state of a Passivhaus is for energy losses to equal energy gains. The breakdown of that balance changes according to the season and the day, as people come and go and do whatever it is they do.


Variation is not only inevitable but desirable. Imagine you’re in your passivhaus about to sleep or have a nap. You and the world are in thermal equilibrium but still you pull a cover or throw over yourself. This suggests your body is more comfortable when it’s allowed to find its own equilibrium.

The delicate energy balance inside a passihaus is easily upset by people coming and going, opening the refrigerator door, cooking stuff, eating stuff and doing stuff and none of these inputs is constant. Human metabolic heat generation is the least understood, least quantifiable and least controllable of all those inputs. It’s not all bad though. At least it means we’re alive.


The rate of metabolic heat production fluctuates according to what we eat and the time of day. It can work with or against the passivhaus heat balance but, as a general rule, it helps that we tend to not want to eat cold things in winter or hot things in summer. It’s also convenient that our core body temperature falls at night to lower the point of energy balance.


To be honest, I was hoping to discover some research into “Optimising human diet-related metabolic heat generation in passivhaus environments” but no. Instead, in those dark corners of the web where sites have names like 10 Common Golf Swing Mistakes, I found much advice on how to lose weight by ‘boosting your metabolism’. In principle, this will generate metabolic heat as a by-product so, with that disclaimer …

7 High Metabolism Foods

  1. Garlic – we’re not surprised. We know garlic is good. The Romans did.
  2. Strawberries – apparently because they contain anthocyanins, but the science is sketchy.
  3. Green tea – we hear this a lot, but if it has any effect at all, it’s because of the caffeine. This has been studied in more detail, here for one.
  4. Beans – anything with fibre in is meant to make the body ‘work harder’ to digest it. This sounds logical but evidence to support it is thin on the ground.
  5. Hot peppers – as with garlic, we knew this. Capsaicin is responsible. The mechanism is disputed but the endorphin rush – that chilli high – is fact.
  6. Lean meats – again the science, such as it is, is that proteins take longer to digest.
  7. Water – water is necessary for many metabolic reactions but what we really want to know is if drinking excess water initiates further metabolic reactions.

It’s not much to go on, but it’s a start.

• • •

The burning question is can we and our passivhaus work together by a diet of steak and chips? The answer is yes and no. Any heat we would generate from metabolising them would be more than negated by the amount of heat required to rustle up those proteins, fats and carbs. Cooking is all about artificial heat imbalances that can be sudden and intense or low yet prolonged. Cooking is not what you really want to be doing in passivhäuser.


Fortunately, steak can be delicious raw.



– as can some veg, but the list of ingredients for this Raw Potato Salad suggests potatoes aren’t one of them.


We don’t much like potatoes uncooked – or unaccompanied. Ketchup isn’t tricky to make but it does require several ingredients not always available.


It also involves heat expenditure. Unless we’re prepared to be raw foodists or pre-fire Paleos, we may as well just heat our passivhaus directly if we’re going to cook anything ‘gently over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until softened, stirring every so often.’ 

  1. Once we finally work out what’s best to eat in terms of metabolic heat production, we’ll need to deduct any energy added to make it palatable by cooking it.
  2. If we’re going get holistic about it, we’ll also have to to factor in the amount of energy required to produce those ingredients. It’s often claimed rearing livestock is a grossly inefficient use of land. Given the proportion of the world’s population that already subsists on grain, this is probably true.
  3. We also can’t ignore the energy used to get that food to us. It’s a contemporary British Christmas tradition to calculate the number of air miles clocked up by the ingredients for a traditional Christmas dinner.

And let’s not forget the energy required to preserve food between its delivery and consumption.


The Sub-Zero Pro 48: ‘A monument to food preservation’

There are many ancient methods for the long-term preservation of food long but again, it’s a mixed bag. Salting meat or fish doesn’t require additional energy but smoking it does. As for preserving foodstuffs short-term, Australia’s Coolgardie Safe and Russia’s Khrushchev Refrigerator (Хрущевский холодильник) require zero energy input, the former performing better with a slight breeze and the latter performing better in winter. As you’d imagine.

Our food preservation method of choice is refrigeration, but it’s gentler on your passivhaus if you allow meats and vegetables to reach room temperature before any frying, boiling or roasting takes place. Even if we consider only the energy used for cooking, balancing that factor within the passivhaus environment will require superhuman levels of awareness and self-control we simply don’t have.

We’re going to have to invest in heat recovery systems to claw back some of the heat that would otherwise be exhausted to outside. It smooths things out a bit and we can feel easier about eating cooked food and showering with water not cold.


Heat recovery systems alone are insufficient, and simple thermostats that average out extremes rather without doing anything to reduce them are pointless. We need a computerised control system such as at the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica (zero-energy) Antarctic research station. The station is a mostly closed environmental system and its energy balance can be closely monitored and controlled.


This is an interesting and useful development because the allocation of energy involves a Degradation Of Lifestyle – i.e. the user might have to wait. This is something we find difficult to comprehend but, if there has to be energy demand management, it is a very intelligent and fair way of doing it.

Energy demand management is happening right now in the world in conflict-ridden places where electrical and/or petrol supply is irregular and could easily be part of our future should energy supply become intermittent or limited.


• • •

I began this post wondering how the human metabolism could be better integrated into a passivhaus but – hands up – I’m no more enlightened. But if we were more enlightened about the heat our bodies contribute to our environments we might make better use of it and maybe even generate it more efficiently.

Using metabolic heat in buildings isn’t a new concept – it’s just something we’ve had no need to continue to be aware of. Both Europe and America have histories of housebarns using the metabolic heat of livestock as underfloor heating in winter.


• • •

  1. Passivhaus Designer’s Manual
  2. Passivhaus Technical Requirements
  6. Avoid the hassle – fuel-up before heading home!

It’s Not Rocket Science #10: Integrated Sanitation and Nutrition

1969: Apollo 11 photographs such as this one were a new way of looking at Earth and making its inhabitants feel special, if a little isolated.

earth-in space

They also heightened awareness of our planet being a self-contained bubble and in the early 1970s, something called “environmental pollution” was identified as a bit of a problem. See here for a brief history of polluting the planet. We’ve come a long way.

Syncrude Aurora Oil Sands Mine, north of Fort McMurray, Canada.

1971: The movie Silent Running was set

in a future where all flora is extinct on Earth. An astronaut is given orders to destroy the last of Earth’s botany, kept in a greenhouse aboard a spacecraft.

Woooo man, that’s heavy!


But it’s good people began to think about the long-term consequences of this thing called pollution. Silent Running is “a sci-fi classic”. It’s also dire. It’s future scenario is nowhere near as dismal as the movie itself. Everything about it is bad: the premise, the casting, the acting, the plot, the costumes, Bruce Dern’s facial hair, Bruce Dern’s hair, the mysterious ubiquity of gravity and, well, hell, it’s technical consultation in general.


The lead spaceship is the Valley Forge, it’s very name a metaphoric minefield. Imagine arch-metabolist Kiyonori Kikutake’s Expo ’70 Expo Tower recumbent.


Recycling was in the air already it seems – and just as well.


1973: With the First Oil Crisis, the mood was gloomier but more real. Professor Frank Bowerman was technical consultant for the movie Soylent Green.


With the world ravaged by the greenhouse effect and overpopulation, an NYPD detective investigates the murder of a CEO with ties to the world’s main food supply.


Professor Frank R. Bowerman was

former director of environmental engineering programs, at the University of Southern California, and former president of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and the American Academy for Environmental Protection. 

They named the mother of all landfills after him, but that’s another story.


We don’t know the content of Professor Bowman’s technical consultations but, given the theme of the movie, they’d have had something to do with an integrated waste and food cycle. [SPOLIER ALERT!]


These next people do it better, with fewer ethical problems but a lot less drama. It’s one of those occasional things that give one hope.

What’s not so encouraging is that it was 1988. The kids in this movie are maybe in their mid-30s now. I hope they made it. I haven’t heard much about the non-technology lately.


I think the reason why is that although we might say we’re concerned about food miles, shitting into a bioreactor is just too close for comfort. We say “Waste is a Valuable Resource” but we really don’t understand what it means to walk the walk. No matter how artificially it’s produced, we prefer the feelgood factor of a bit of homegrown and are going to endless lengths to keep the dream alive.


We’re simply too emotionally attached to eating plants to have time for scum like algae.

Since 1974, the United Nations has strongly supported Spirulina “as the best food for the future”,[44] and established the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition in 2003.

Ever heard of it? I hadn’t either.

In the late 1980s and early 90s, both NASA (CELSS)[46] and the European Space Agency (MELISSA)[47] proposed Spirulina as one of the primary foods to be cultivated during long-term space missions.

What happened? They found out how to make coffee in space, and how to heat up pasta. Here’s a brief history of food in space. One of the first off-planet misdemeanours we know about was when the crew of Gemini III snuck a corned beef sandwich on their spaceflight. 

2014: “Interstellar”. 


A group of explorers make use of a newly discovered wormhole to surpass the limitations on human space travel and conquer the vast distances involved in an interstellar voyage.  

Now why would they want to do this? Yep, Earth’s screwed. Again. It’s food is running out. The wheat is blighted, the okra’s out. Every able body is needed to help grow corn. tells us that

part of the space exploration that takes place in Interstellar happens because we are in need of new soil to grow crops. 



But CORN! They’re growing corn FFS! Old habits die hard. If they die at all. Here’s the nutritional data for maize – “corn” if you like.


Here’s a corn yield calculator. Do the mathematics and it’ll be clear


Those first photographs of Earth from space made people think of our planet as “Spaceship Earth”. It was a good thing. But if spaceship food is nutritionally adequate but in culturally comforting shapes, colours and textures, then the future of nutrition on earth (as well as architecture, FWIW) doesn’t look that promising either. If ever somewhere (other than Earth, that is) needed an integrated sanitation and nutrition system it’s the International Space Station. Instead, everything gets frozen and compressed and brought back here.


Even if we accept that we’re only going to pay attention to high and expensive technology instead of the simple and inexpensive things that not only work but do some human good, the International Space Station is not setting a very good example for Spaceship Earth.


Home Grown

So what’s for dinner then?

Over on (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.

As ever, the landed have it going for them. But what’s in store for 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, 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, even though it’s bad news. It’s equivalent to 6.7 grams/m2. We’re going to get only 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 – or spirulina? It’s looking good!


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


6-10g of spirulina 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 post is purely about physiological nutrition and not about cultural sustenance (W/eTF that is) or socio-cultural well-being (DittoTF) in any sense other than that.

• • •

Even though it must have been common knowledge once, there’s probably a PhD in it for someone who can find out how much growing needs to be done and in how much space. If we assume 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 Monday, 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 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, 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, seriously, WHAT’S FOR DINNER? What’s the point of looking forward to 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 that works.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


This orangery was used for overwintering orange trees but a fair share of entertaining took place as well.


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 hothouse 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.


Or ceremony.


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.


Inside, your neighbour’s conservatory will probably look like this – some extra living space with a bit more glazing than usual.


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.


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 House

When it gets too cold for sitting you can withdraw and let your orange trees winter there .

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.

Beets Notes: This roasted beet sat on a meaty sauce (meaty).  Then there was meat juice splattered on the plate.  Overall, a nice dish, but not terribly groundbreaking.

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


and 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.