Category Archives: FOOD

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

Retirement Plan

It all started to go wrong with the Garden City. People may have had their own house on a bit of land but, rather than mimic the large landowning estates by growing staple crops on the estate and garden vegetables round the back, it was more important to miniaturize the gardens at the front, with lawns, hybrid tea roses and daffodils. Any kitchen garden was for gardeners to manage. To grow plants for their appearance and not because one had to eat them was status. It still is.


The early-mid 1920s in Europe were a golden age for urban visions to alleviate urban overcrowding. Ludwig Hilberseimer produced four visions for the city but his 1924 High Rise City is the most reproduced. It has streets and communal courtyards separated by apartments with views over both but we never saw what was supposed to happen in those courtyards.

High-Rise City Project, 1924 Ludwig Hilberseimer

One year later, Le Corbusier announced his Plan Voisin. It’s stated raison d’etre was to alleviate overcrowding but publicity was assured by it proposing a large part of Paris be demolished to make way for a battery of tall residential towers set in parkland overlooking an airdrome of all things. I’ve never seen a section or plans of an apartment or a typical floor. The drawing on the right below indicates floor levels but, without windows, it’s difficult to guess how these buildings work or might work. Without a multitude of restaurants, cafés and small stores at ground level, it’s not even clear why all these people need to be in Paris.

Plan Voisin made it de rigueur for 20th century architects to freely reimagine the city without any danger those visions would come to pass. Kenzo Tange established his visionary credentials with his famously unbuilt 1960 Plan for Tokyo.

Making remote parts of Tokyo easier to commute from was more essential and far less expensive than creating real estate along the way, as evidenced by the US$11.2 bil. Tokyo Bay Aqua Line [right] opened in 1997 to link Kanagawa with Chiba. Its 23 km in 15 minutes compares favorably with the coast road’s 100 km in 90 min. on a good day.

The infrastructure is less exuberant than the Tange scheme as It has nothing to prove except its financial viability, something it’s still struggling with.

Arata Isozaki proved himself a visionary with two aerial city schemes ostensibly proposed as solutions to overcrowding at ground level. The 1960 City in the Air cleared the ground of troublesome building footprint.

City in the Air, 1960, Arata Isozaki

Isozaki’s 1962 Clusters in the Air managed less accommodation on less footprint ratio with visionary cantilevers suspending living units with gravity-defying drainage.

Clusters in the Air, 1962, Arata Isozaki

Kiyonori Kikutake’s 1968 Ocean City established his visionary credentials by reconstructing the ground, offshore.

Kiyonori Kikutake, Ocean City, 1968

Michael Graves and Peter Eisenman’s 1965 Linear City was to connect Boston and Washington DC with a linear building encompassing urban functions that displaced rural ones along the way.

I don’t understand that last sentence. It’s as if infrastructure exists outside of any space for critical evaluation.

Paolo Soleri’s 1970-ish Hexahedron was proposed as home to 170,000, and about a kilometer high and wide. It didn’t happen despite areas being labelled “RESIDENTIAL”, “COMMERCIAL” and “CULTURAL CENTER”.

Jaques Fresco is responsible for The Venus Project (1970–2000?) articulating his vision for a resource-based economy in which all goods and services are available to all people without the need for means of exchange such as money, credits, barter, and so on. Architectural design proceeded despite all resources not yet being declared the common heritage of all Earth’s inhabitants. Many renders and models were produced.

All these proposals say nothing about food. It’s always produced somewhere else and somehow finds its way to these urbanizations to sustain them.

The Fresco scheme has much vegetation but no crops. I can imagine Fresco saying “In a resource-based economy all farming would be performed by autonomous robots” and, until we have a resource-based economy, no-one can say whether that will turn out to be true or not.

SUPERSTUDIO’s 1971 Megaton City is more of a critique of society than an actual proposal. It features more rugged vegetation but again nothing in the way of agriculture. It could of course easily incorporate some but this would raise questions of sufficiency as well as weakening the natural vs. artificial contrast being set up.

Thought: Architecture likes simplistic oppositions, especially when Architecture and Nature are seen as opposites yet a conceptual pair. Could architecture’s problem with food production have something to do with cultivation being neither Architecture nor Nature?

Food + Shelter

The history of integrated urbanization and agriculture is yet to be written. I’ve only recently learned of Edgar Chambless’ 1910 Road Town Concept. The rooftop is a promenade, somewhat oddly. Industry is cottage and agriculture is integrated and intended to be performed by the inhabitants. Transportation is underground but it’s unclear why, or why anyone would ever need to go anywhere.

In 1930, Moisei Ginsburg and Mikhail Okhotovich proposed dispersed agricultural villages with easily deployable collapsible and transportable dwelling units as well as buildings for 3 to 100 persons. All were to be dispersed across the Soviet Union in an isotropic grid presumably to minimize walking distances. If I knew the distance between those villages it’d be possible to calculate the area each was expected to manage. This is important because the Soviet Union doesn’t have 12-month growing seasons.

In the same 1930, in France, a large house might still have had a kitchen garden. This is Robert Mallet-Stevens’ 1932 Villa Cavrois.

This aerial photograph and plan show the gardens. House and pond form a single composition and the rectangular plots to the right are a flower garden. Beyond that to the right and outside the composition is the kitchen garden.

Frank Lloyd Wrights’ Broadacre City proposal was first exhibited in 1935 but he never ceased promoting it. It’s an attempt to integrate accommodation and food supply into a self contained city. During the Cold War he talked it up by claiming its decentralization offered protection from atomic attack. It was never realized or, as far as I know, even the inspiration for anything but it did have the intention to not separate food and shelter. In fairness, the lifetime of this project coincided with a period when not just Americans but people around the world believed cities offered the hope of a better life.

The year 1945 brings us Ralph Rapson’s Case Study House #4 with its internal garden feature substituting for a view and providing a pleasant and satisfying diversion even if cultivation on this scale could never allow four people to be self-sufficient.

Thanks to Mark for telling me about Kisho Kurokawa’s 1960 Agricultural City. Who knew? Even now, all we know is that each village was to be for 200 persons in a 500m x 500m grid elevated for some reason.

Gilles Gauthier’s 1994 Linear City suggests that “the mechanization of agriculture as proposed by the Japanese engineer Tetsuya Hanmura would also be appropriate for the Linear City” or at least not too far away. Thirty-odd years on from Kurokawa, the future of agriculture in Japan is no longer reimagined traditional farming enclaves but autonomous robots all the way down.

This past decade, we’ve been spoiled with visionary proposals for urban farming, often prefixed by the word vertical.

The less architectural side of vertical farming takes place in sheds not unlike growhouses and not necessarily in urban areas.

The usual output is green leafy vegetables and a huge amount of basil. It’s easy to see why. Basil is big business bu it’s susceptible to frosts and the countries where Italian food is most popular don’t produce it.

Basil isn’t without nutritional value, but the nutritional figures below are per 100g. A 2,000 calorie per day intake means eating 8.7 kg. I’d be more keen on vertical farming if its cleverness was directed at staples like onions, potatoes, cabbages, wheat and rice, or even fruit and nuts.

These past few years we’ve also been spoiled with visionaries using marker pens to design away the world’s problems and impress us with napkin sketches demonstrating the spontaneity of their creativity and the urgency of their need to sell it to us.

It might just be me, but I don’t trust commercial architects any more than I do the private sector to sort the world out. I’m not sure we should trust universities either as long as they draw funds from the same sources via funding, gifts, endowments and philanthropic initiatives.


The preface to The Rethinking states

Our efforts … were twofold : first, we sought to think of ways, through design, to narrow the rural-urban divide in China, a divide precipitated in the era of Mao and maintained since, despite efforts to the contrary by successive adminstrations. Second, we sought to conceptually dissolve the distinction between rural and urban, city and countryside and architecture and landscape by revalidating the Chinese philosophical concept of Polaris – a worldview that sees opposites as complementary and understands all things to be an alternation between binary poles.”

This sounds good but opposites define each other and form conceptual pairs anyway and without recourse to Chinese philosophy. The problem is one of conceptually dissolving the distinction between urban and rural while maintaining their nature as opposites – a tall order.

“This report … presents a critical reflection on the developmental city and the countryside, making no attempt to sustain the status quo. It proposes several alternatives for the future of rural China that avoid the common mistake of turning the countryside into enclaves of suburban villas or high-density urban centers marooned in an agricultural field.”

Another tall order. The China status quo is that farmland is still being built on at a considerable rate, there’s an oversupply of upmarket housing and, for a country aiming at 100% employment, there’s simply not enough things in cities for people to do. Non-urban areas have to be made more attractive and viable places for people to live. But for whom and how is the problem.

“The challenge for the studio was to imagine a self-sufficient place able to support a dynamic economy in the countryside, providing cultural and intellectual stimulation and offering a respite from the inequalities and divisions that plague the developmental city; in other words, to imagine the city as a space of equal and plural coexistence.” The Taiqian Studio, An Introduction, Christopher C.M. Lee

The design site was a real one as the (then current) urbanization plan for the area proposed consolidating four villages into a single new agricultural town housing 4,400 persons in 1,200 dwellings. The intention of such plans is for combined villages to share community amenities, improved services and infrastructure but the downside is that demolishing villages and consolidating them into high-rises literally and symbolically disconnects the villagers not only from the land but from their land. The project aim was thus not to question the forces behind relocation but to make the built manifestations of relocation more palatable to villagers. Oh and also to city-folk feeding an Airb’n’b economy.

As for the projects, my sole evaluation criteria was whether I could imagine myself living in any of them. I didn’t. All had a feeling of retirement home about them, as if they were designed as people placeholders to empty cities of those who can’t, don’t or won’t participate in the venture capitalist economy. All the same, the idea of a self-sufficient place providing cultural and intellectual stimulation and a respite from the inequalities and divisions of cities still appeals. But, if those inequalities and divisions are the inevitable byproduct of that very same economy, then there’s no option but to take whatever’s available out there and retire from cities and the economy they sustain.

Food Stuff

Architecture has had a love affair with prefabrication ever since Gropius’ conversion a hundred years ago. It never did become our dominant way of making buildings but the possibility was sufficient to invite him to Harvard and make his career while destroying those of independent craftspersons and carpenters worldwide. Such is the way of venture capitalism. Our expectations of quality were successfully lowered. Nobody aspires to live in a handmade house. Yet, large buildings still require an enormous amount of human labour even if the proportion of skilled labour has become progressively less. Many building components are fabricated offsite and variations can be produced relatively easily by linking design algorithms to the manufacturing process. This removes many more persons from the construction workforce. $$.

3D printing is, more than anything else, a system of production designed to produce maximum profits on low overheads once an upfront investment has been made. Sounds familiar. 3D printers can work non-stop in poor or unsafe conditions and they won’t petition for health insurance or a living wage. Unfortunately, buildings are big things, we still need a lot of them and all that grey goo still has to come from somewhere.

While we’re waiting for 3D printers that look like the real future instead of a flatbed plotter, and that run on practically no energy and an infinite supply of zero-cost goo, work can still go ahead to increase our expectations for the future while lowering them in the present. Materiality as a concept is disappearing. It’s easy to find out what a 3D printed medical implant or prosthetic is made of but try to discover what a 3D printed building is made of and you’ll struggle. It’s taken a hundred years but architecture has successfully detached itself from the grubby business of coordinating people and materials to make shelter. In 99 years’ time when we next celebrate The Bauhaus, I hope we think about its place in history and whose side they were really on. To be fair, buildings are big so maybe they weren’t the best product with which to test drive those things called factories. Nowadays even the idea of industry with smokestacks and sawtooth roofs is quaint.

Food is down there with shelter at the bottom of Maslow’s famous hierarchy and we can easily imagine how having those fundamental needs unsatisfied leaves little hope of satisfying the others. Food and shelter are also linked by competing for the same land. The standard post-industrial response has been for cities to displace agriculture while agri-business separated people from the production of food. We used to think it shocking yet amusing when children believed the source of milk was cartons and not cows but today’s children are encouraged to think of drones as the future source of all food. Under the guise of helping, meals delivery companies kill independent restaurants by squeezing their profits and controlling their customers in much the same way as Amazon killed off independent bookstores way back and many other types of retail store since.

The streets around me still have restaurants but many other types of store simply don’t exist. Usual shops are hairdressers, fruit shops, pharmacies, car-washing/tyre-changing stores, fishmongers and a few others for which online is problematic. Stores I’ve foolishly looked for include a hardware store, an electrical goods store, a paint shop, and a garden center. In something like a hardware or garden store I’d enjoy talking to salespeople if they can assist but we mustn’t romanticize the past. People my mother’s age embraced cake mix, canned fruit and instant puddings and didn’t think it romantic to wait in a queue to have the grocer slice off half a pound of butter. Since the 1950s, innovations in consumer end food supply have been about saving time, implying that even the purchasing and preparation of food is onerous.

Supermarkets were food department stores where many different types of food, both fresh and processed could be purchased in one place, saving time. In the 1970s we had the rise of fast food worldwide and in the 1980s shopping malls with food courts surrounded by fast food options. In the 2000s, delivery services saved us the time we would spend going out to eat fast food. Drone delivery will save us the time to say thank you to deliverers. How fast can food get? Is there a theoretical minimum gap between desire and satisfaction? If the trend is towards less interaction and more isolation [in line with isolated people bureaucratically managed] then what’s next? Trying to think like a venture capitalist, albeit one well behind the curve, I reasoned that, for some investment upfront, Star Trek style food replicators would further isolate people and remove the need to set up even dark kitchens and begrudgingly pay delivery riders. Only when I did some searching did I find that food replication had been a news item back in 2018.

The first item had a video titled Teleporting Sushi showing how a piece of sushi freshly created in Japan could have its component molecules scanned and analyzed into information digitally transmitted to a replicator that could be anywhere. That was the wish. The reality was a flatbed plotter grimly laying down layers of gelatin. The second item reported how some start-up had successfully created a “replicator” that can 3D print anything by using large-scale carbon nanotube (CNT) membranes that separate and combine molecules from CO2 in the air. Let’s not hold our breath. Many questions.

Will the mass teleportation of sushi, Peking duck, hamburgers and channa masala mean the end of global hunger?

No. It will lead to a surfeit of conceptual food art for subscribers.

Will there be end-to-end encryption?

There’d better be. I don’t want my dinner hacked and contaminated by some virus virus, especially as I will have already clicked away any rights to compensation and agreed to people monetizing the data extracted from my order history.

Who gets to eat the piece of sushi the chef makes, scans and transmits?

I hope it’s the chef, for there’s no need to make it again as the code can be resold many times. Think about it. Movies aren’t remade each time someone wants to watch them. Plays are though, as long as there’s enough people to watch them. Such a thing as live music still exists but, once music could be recorded, the history of its reproduction and dissemination became one of technology. Hard copy storage formats evolved only to disappear. Once MP3 files gave us quantity then high-fidelity became a thing of the past. Streaming services store music for us and some them like to predict what we might like. I see replicated food going the same way.

What would being a chef even mean once new dishes can be created by combining code for different ingredients and processes?

This one’s simple. If new products can just be created by messing around with codes and algorithms then chefs and cooks join architects in being out of a job. It gets worse. If food can be replicated from carbon molecules in the air then farmers everywhere are also out of a job. It’s said that more technology is always the answer to problems caused by technology but food replicators won’t arrive in time to help us. Farming will become impossible before it becomes obsolete. Once perfected however, food replicators will destroy what’s left of food chains and cultures. All that will be left are replicator manufacturers and marketers, source code handlers and end consumers consuming. No one will cry for Monsanto.

What would a piece of sushi even mean anymore once it’s making is removed from the growing of rice or the fishing of fish?

Divorced from its location and culture like many other things, and now separated from its means of production, sushi simply becomes something some people once ate. Everything we eat will have this in common. The illusion of choice and diversity limits real choice and diversity. Things become less different. Choosing one over the other has less meaning. The Food Court Syndrome.

For that matter, what would making even mean when something just appears in the replicator and the only two states of matter are existence/non-existence and the only relevant state of human existence is consumption?

This must surely sound like heaven to venture capitalists. To have a product that magicks food into existence (out of a raw material that’s still free), on demand, and at the point of consumption does for food what personal headphones and streaming music did to the music industry. Not only is the means of production owned and controlled elsewhere, it’s invisible.

How can we be sure the air at the other end will have all the nutrients we need?

Our bodies need minerals too. It’s one thing to recombine molecules but not all molecules are carbon based. This suggests serious chemistry as well as some basic nuclear physics involving the splitting and reforming of atoms. You can’t replicate a banana if you can’t replicate potassium.

400mg of K

This may not matter.

Is there a limit to the amount of nutrients the air can hold?

Would heavily populated areas be nutrient vacuums? Would there be seasonal variation? Plus, there’s a lot of things in the air these days and not all of them good. I hope someone will filter out all the elements that don’t go into the making of food. Or maybe they could just use any available air and edit the code after as post-processing? I worry how sushi is going to be replicated on Mars where the air is notoriously thin.

How much energy is all this going to take?

Don’t get me wrong. Replicating food out of a resource that’s still free and abundant is a great idea. We have no idea how much energy all this will take to be done properly but we do have a handle on how much energy it takes to reverse engineer food waste. A lot. The USS Gerald R. Ford is a nuclear powered aircraft carrier with sufficient surplus energy to run a plasma arc gasification system that zaps solid waste back into the Hadean Era when the 28 elements necessary for human life were just being formed. With food replication, the front-end scanning and analysis bit sounds like it’ll be the simple part. Transmitting the data is routine. The replicator technology alone sounds tricky if it has to create and recombine all those elements and molecules on the fly but how it’ll be powered is a big, separate problem. How large these things will be is another. I doubt we’ll be taking a replicator on a picnic anytime soon but if enough people put their minds and money to it, it will happen.

Who’s on the case?

We can expect researchers in research laboratories and universities worldwide have, for the past two years at least, been furiously formulating research proposals in expectation of funding thrown at them by the private sector. Same old. Patents will be awarded in the hope of controlling this technology that will bring new and not necessarily good meanings to the terms disruptive and game changer.

What to do?

Not much for now. I’ve no interest in living off-grid, but I am looking for a dream home where I can grow food to feed me and not the venture capitalist economy.



The theme of the US pavilion at the 2016 Venice Bienalle was The Architectural Imagination. There wasn’t time to ponder this next project so I took some photos. These.

I was suspicious of the appealing graphics and thought the proposal looked excessively jolly for what’s essentially an inhabited multi-storey car park. But the car park as repurposeable building typology stuck in my mind even though I waited until last week to find out the proposal was by MOS architects.

Here’s some of what was said.

Cities structure our lives, resources, interactions, and identities. From Sebastiano Serlio to Rem Koolhaas, architects have used the metaphor of theater, presenting the city as stage, as comic sets for comic acts, as a delirious city for delirious subjects, generic city for generic subjects, and so on. Today, however, we are social anywhere, actors on- and offstage. So what happens when the city no longer structures us, or when basic urban elements – streets, buildings, facades, and addresses – have been augmented, superimposed, and untethered by or replaced through technology? 

If emptied typologies serve as an open framework for something else, then it’s New Babylon circling around [c.f. Something in The Air] for a second shot at having us accept its representation of togetherness and connectivity as a substitute for the real thing.

Every exterior space is a public space, every interior space is a public space.

What does this mean? And why did someone feel the need to say it? What purpose does this sentence serve? Things can be true yet not make sense. You can say “The Sun will come up tomorrow.” but people will just look at you strangely unless they have some idea why you might want to say that. “Every interior space is a public space” may just be nonsense archispeak but, even so, why would someone say it?

Today, however, we are social anywhere, actors on- and offstage. So what happens when the city no longer structures us, or when basic urban elements – streets, buildings, facades, and addresses – have been augmented, superimposed, and untethered by or replaced through technology? 

This is a provocative thought, for who needs architecture or even proper buildings if our social lives are increasingly lived online? Long gone are the days when housing factory workers was an architectural topic. (Only in China do people still make things and only in China is housing those people a topic of concern.)

If the modern identity is either as content producer or content consumer, then all that content consumers need is a place to crash and recharge and it’s easy to imagine someone thinking that the sooner that’s all they have, the “better” they can fulfill that “societal” role. No architect has ever done badly by pandering to economic powers-that-be. Projects such as this repurposed multi-storey car park work to lower expectations while purporting to do the opposite.

The structure and circulation of this proposal are based on the economical model of highway and parking structures.

I’ve no problem with Dom-ino Houses for everyone. Buildings are mostly columns and slabs anyway and there’s not much difference between multi-story car park, shopping mall, and apartment building.

A series of spiral ramps punctuate the structure, connecting all levels with pedestrian and vehicular traffic.

I’m not sure I like the idea of spiral ramps with two-way pedestrian and vehicular traffic but perhaps it will have a Villa Savoye feel to it and I should stop complaining.

A perennial garden and plaza extend across the roof, creating a network of spaces for recreation and social gathering.

Roof gardens, eh?

Thin buildings maximize the surface area of their facades and in turn maximize daylighting.

I don’t think this is true because haphazardly joining and intersecting these narrow buildings creates many windowless re-entrant corners for elevators and stairs not to fill. The external ramps actually obstruct daylight and, because they’re spiral ramps, can’t be used as joints to connect buildings having the same floor levels.

But the images are lovely, and the desire to obtain or at least posit maximum social utility from the most prosaic of urban structures is surely a good thing. Even so, the problem it shares with a lot of what you see at architectural biennali, is that there’s absolutely no incentive to make it happen. I can’t imagine a problem or even a set of circumstances for which this would be a solution.

Short story is, the car park as archetypal building typology was in the back of my mind since 2016 and last week’s post The Active Band proposed a couple of techniques that might prove useful should we ever want to extract more value from them. The building on the left below we’ve seen before [in Slum Porn but what of the one on the right? It’s probably going to be some commercial building and the enclosed part is probably some site office. But what if construction stopped and the building never made it any further? And if its space was colonized by sophisticated squatters? Or persons with no other options? Or by people in similar circumstances banding together to pool their energies and resources in some shared endeavor?

It’s almost a decade since architectural representations of dystopias were fashionable. Students no longer see their desaturated cityscapes as folio-builders, probably because imagining a dystopia doesn’t require much imagination these days.

Not much new construction is going to happen in our coming dystopia and whatever does is going be for those still retaining some capacity to produce something of whatever is valued at that time. People lacking even the capacity to consume will have to make do with repurposing existing buildings and perhaps entire cities. But what would make them do so?

Climate Change?

It’s short odds. The Mars thing might not work out, or work out in time. Climate change and subsequent reconfiguration of patterns of living on Earth are more likely to happen first.

It may turn out that all those sustainability awareness centers built over the past couple of decades didn’t really raise much awareness or, if they did raise some awareness, it never converted into meaningful action. It may also turn out that LEED and all those other building rating systems didn’t really bring about the anticipated sea change in the construction industry.

When completed, Doha’s LEED Silver Rem Koolhaas international airport with its 10,000mindoor tropical garden, 268mwater feature and 11,720mof landscaped retail and dining space and such but that’s not the problem. It’s an airport. With airplanes. Lots. Its projected initial annual passenger handling capacity of 29 million passengers equals 91 full-capacity AIRBUS A-380 per day – one every 16 minutes. In fairness, the A380 is more fuel efficient per passenger than an average economy car but the calculation doesn’t factor in the necessity of the journey.

So then, here we all are in 2045 and things aren’t looking so good. All new construction is prohibited, there’s no air travel, vehicle travel, and possession and combustion of fossils fuels is outlawed. Aircraft and automobiles are obsolete and buildings are not being completed, or being abandoned if they are. So now what? Where do we live? How do we live? What’s for dinner? How much of our cities can be repurposed to provide food and shelter now push has come to shove?

A common building typology in Dubai is the high-rise tower with associated multi-storey car park, each having a footprint of about 40m x 40m. The car park is laid out much like the example below, with 40 cars per two half levels for ten or eleven floors – 400-450 spaces let’s say. The associated tower will have about 800 sq.m of residential or office space per floor and will be anything from 30-60 stories. A fifty-storey tower will therefore have approximately 100 sq.m of space per car parking space.

This is a favorable proportion because, assuming ideal growing conditions, it takes about 50 sq.m of land to grow sufficient food to sustain one human life. [c.f. Calories/m3, Home Grown]. Rather than look at buildings as excuses for forests, we might want to start eyeing them up as places to produce food closer to where it will be consumed. Terracing arable surface area is always going to be more productive than stacking it but a high-rise building can at least offer similar efficiencies of water utilization even if it’s not rice that’s grown. Yes, tower has become a vertical farm and multi-storey car park has become accommodation.

In the former car park, we have maybe 400-450 x 12.5 sq.m residential plots with perhaps, but not necessarily, single occupancy. At first, we might prefer to sleep in our cars. Car parks with a void in the middle can also have an inner active band and servicing, but whatever services there are going to be might be more efficiently provided to communal kitchens, bathrooms and laundries on the periphery. There – that’s the architecture sorted!

The people in the car park and the plants in the tower are both going to need a supply of water which won’t be happening as long as water supply is dependent upon fossil fuel for desalination.


Water is something this planet is blessed with. When not in oceans, it’s falling out of the air to replenish them. Plants have a place in this this thing called the water cycle but humans don’t, even though we need that H2O to stay alive.

There are two ways we can do this and both are relevant to our new situation. Atmospheric water generators cool humid air to condense drinking water out of it. It’s supposed to take 310Wh (111kJ) of energy to make one liter of water. Both active and passive generators exist but we’ll go with the passive one.

Dubai lucks out here as the average temperature stays above 19.7° and the relative humidity never falls below 53%. Moreover, lower temperatures are compensated for by higher humidities in winter, and vice-versa in summer. If ever there were perfect conditions for atmospheric water generation it is these.

We’ll be hydrated, but what about the plants? A seawater greenhouse involves pumping (or otherwise getting) seawater to a place that needs water, and then 1) using it to humidify and cool the air that is then 2) evaporated by solar heating and distilled to produce fresh water.

The windward side of the tower would need to be a porous membrane and act as an evaporative cooler and the sunny side would need to function as a solar collector. We’d be more than halfway there if glazing panels could be somehow hacked and converted into either.

Water supply

Work for the construction of main and link tunnels for Dubai’s new sewer system is expected to be completed in 2025. For some time now, sections alongside main roads have been being dug up and pipes laid for link tunnels. There’s surprisingly little disruption.

These pipes and tunnels will lead to two main sewage treatment facilities. Much energy will be used to shift and process that sewage that may have more value as one component of a composting process most likely performed on rooftops. The pipes and tunnels could be flooded with seawater to enable seawater greenhouses and local water production over a greater area. Alternatively, warm humid air could be forced into them to make the system function as one large atmospheric water generator. Either way, the current inspection manholes will become community wells.

The composting, the agriculture, the seawater transfer and the atmospheric water generation are known technologies. How they’ll all work together will need thought and experimentation but there’s the potential to create a template for human existence that works in sync with natural processes such as evaporation and plant growth. It won’t be a completely closed system and it won’t be without energy input.

Fortunately, most of the energy required to make the system work is from the Sun heating up the air so it can hold all that water. It’s all on the verge of being possible and relies upon will and ingenuity rather than a wireless connection and “innovative” technologies yet to be developed. Hauling soil and water up towers won’t be easy or for the indolent but, as a plan, it’s relatively fail-safe and living in sync with the seasons might turn out to be quite a pleasant way to live. At least we won’t be on Mars, dependent on complex technologies and corporate benevolence for the very air we breathe as we crush rocks to squeeze water from them to feed the 3D printers that will print us our nice ice igloos.

If all goes well, productivity might improve and our isolated buildings might one day produce a surplus to support educational, commercial and perhaps even artistic crossover. If that happens, this simple typology will facilitate the continuation of civilization, much as caravanserai did with far less means ten centuries earlier. [c.f. Caravanserai]


The Boarding House

Boarding houses are dwellings that can be lived in either as houses or hotels and it seems like they’re due for a comeback now that much of our existing house and apartment stock is either fully or partially rented out short-term to persons not a part of the owner’s household.

Property and investments have now surpassed paid employment as the primary generator of personal wealth, so we can’t expect this trend to end soon. They seem like the perfect product as there’s definitely a demand for boarding houses and for making money off them.

Pay-per-stay lodging arrangements means we have apartment buildings unofficially morphing into hotels but apartment buildings and hotels both require considerable investment in the building stock. Airb’n’b is successful because it enables anyone to micro-feudalise space of any type or size.

The top-end of the market is saturated with short-term accommodation curated to create the impression of being a welcome guest in someone’s home. I hear there’s a Netflix show called Stay Here.

Whatever floats one’s houseboat is fine at the top end of the market. Houses have always been available for short-term rental but when the term is as short as one night we’re talking hotels. A dwelling may be a house typologically and curated as if it were someone’s home but can still be occupied as if it were a hotel.

The “bed and breakfast” has always been around in some form and, even for typologically identical dwellings, its experience as a short-term stay is somewhere between full houseness and full hotelness. Some owners run very tight ships while others pride themselves on informality.  For breakfast, some offer organic bacon and eggs on artisan bread, handmade jam, a choice of fresh juices, herbal teas and ethically sourced coffee. Others might not.

When London councils use beds and breakfast to provide emergency housing, the bed and breakfast is being used as a low-cost hotel in place of low-cost housing. But people at the the sharp end of housing demand aren’t looking for low-cost staycations with breakfast thrown in. They want accommodation whatever its typology and will occupy it as short-term lets that are renewable. Until they’re not anymore.

Becoming “a lodger” is another informal tenancy option and this type of arrangement is also not new. A lodger pays for a room in a house, some degree of use of the kitchen and bathroom and perhaps also the living areas. In the early 20th century, it was not uncommon for a lodger to eat meals along with owners at the same time and table. There was no contract, payment was in cash and, more often than not, undeclared. These quasi-household arrangements were mutually beneficial and could last several years. Nobody minded there being only one bathroom because one bathroom was all houses had.

“Taking in a lodger” was accepted as a necessary thing to do to “make ends meet” as “letting strangers into one’s home” was not something people did through choice. But what of the lodger? Lodgers gained a reputation for either being a shifty bunch with pasts and intentions unknown, or social failures with lives on the skids.

No such stigma was attached to boarding houses run by companies for their workers.


This 1905 Western Pennsylvania boarding house is worker housing offering full board to miners for a charge presumably deducted from their salaries. It’s a communal house for people bound by an employer rather than family.

Communal houses also existed in pre-Soviet Russia in response to housing shortages and it was not uncommon to find an extended family occupying a single room. These photographs give some idea of what the living was like but the plan is also revealing.

Not too much later came the Soviet communal house proposals and, though the occupants were likely to have been linked by an employer, this new pattern of occupancy was seen appropriate for the new society in which primary loyalties were now to the State. One of the reasons the communal house never became the norm was resistance [at the top] to doing away with the notion of the family as the basic unit for housing society even though (or perhaps because) overcrowding meant that was not always the reality.

The Return of the Boarding House

Fast forward a century and the Air b’n’b and pay-per-stay architecture and disenchantment with the carrots of “starter homes” and “property ladder” all suggest a demand for new types of housing to facilitate yet unknown types of tenure and occupation. The detached house or conventional apartment designed for a nuclear family no longer cuts it. And hotels don’t either. There’s a whole range of human experience not being accommodated, even conceptually. This next project is designated a boarding house.

Apartments are perhaps 20 sq.m. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s as decent as it is. The images are from Item 1 – 2 Frederick Street, Wollongong (DA-2018-313) on the council website.

As a typology, it’s nothing new. It could be conventional self-catering holiday apartments or a trendy microflat development. It’s not last-year’s co-living because the apartments, though small, have their own bathroom and kitchen alcove. And it’s not last-year’s co-housing because there aren’t any ties bringing these people together in the same place. But nor is it a hotel as residents do their own cleaning. I wouldn’t have thought people would be responsible for their own meals in a boarding house but Attachment 6 [p.93] says they can.


The ground level communal living room and on-site manager are required by the planning conditions for boarding houses [on p.10-11 of the document].

The live-in caretaker also makes it a boarding house, along with house rules that include

  • a ban on smoking inside,
  • drinking alcohol outside between 10pm and 10am,
  • disturbing neighbours and
  • having overnight visitors.


  • sign up for a minimum of three months, and
  • are prohibited from using illegal drugs,
  • having pets and
  • burning candles or incense.

Strangely, these rules are more stringent than those of any market housing. I suspect the building is built and managed to provide some of the services local councils used to provide. And that the rules are necessary to comply with the conditions of some subsidy, tax break or funding. Low-paid workers are the expected tenants and will pay AUS$200 (€127/US$145/GB£111) per week. Australia’s lists one one-bedroom apartment for AUS$140 p.w. but the average is around AUS$300 for a one-bed and AUS$400 for a two.

Construction is straightforward and finishes absent or minimal. Access corridors are open. The price difference between these micro-apartments and 1-bed rental apartments already on the market seems largely proportional to floor area, suggesting that design and construction are incapable of further reduction, though materials may be.

Spatially, the rooms are 16-18 sq.m and look a lot like hotel rooms.

The problem remains. How are people who will never be able to purchase a home expected to live? There’s not many options. AUS$200/€127/US$145/GB£111 is what this new minimum way of living costs for now. Some way down the line, the kitchenettes will be replaced by a communal kitchen or possibly a canteen, and then the bathrooms will become shared. The resulting building and how it is lived in will resemble student accommodation circa 1946

but with a room area to GFA ratio approximating early 20th century prototypes.

A vertical communal house with a canteen at street level would be the same building as a residential hotel or, on a smaller scale, a pub [c.f. Home Improvement] and even as far as meals being provided to residents and sold to non-residents. It’s little wonder these buildings convert so easily into apartments.

No matter how similar an apartment building may be to a hotel building, our only modes of occupying it are as a house or as a hotel and, as in MONOPOLY, a preponderance of hotels means it’s close to the end of the game. [c.f. Houses or Hotels] The boarding house is an inbetween type of occupancy. I can imagine a building or apartment with eight to ten bedrooms, perhaps with en-suites, but with breakfasts and dinners available as part of the deal in a communal dining room adjacent to a communal living area. This is a new type of occupation that we don’t have a word for yet but boarding house is the closest one we have. This gap in our concepts also shows with there being no word for the person or persons who would run such a house(hold). They’re not concierges although they would probably receive packages and deliveries for others. They’re not caretakers although they would probably clean and manage communal areas. They’re more than cooks and housekeepers but less than parents and mothers. Were they to clean individual rooms or do laundry as an extra, then the rooms would be serviced rooms within a co-housing situation and a miniature of the serviced apartments currently proliferating within apartment blocks.

If ever a new building typology perfectly adapted to this type of occupancy were to emerge, individual boarding houses would have to differentiate themselves by their cooking.


Tall Food

Tall food is a nineties restaurant plating affectation that came and went. Whatever was destined by looks or flavour to be on the same plate was stacked as high as it could be. The tall food in the feature photograph has the following layers that are, as far as I can ascertain, from bottom to top:

1) A jus, because things came with them back then. The colour makes me think it might be a salmon jus but it’s flecked with two types of sesame seed, possibly referencing the eighties’ love for differently coloured peppercorns.
2) To  the front is some picked ginger in what, circa 1997, might have been called a garnish construction in the style of Frank Gehry.

Pickled Ginger
– Peel the skin off the ginger root or, if it is very fresh, use a spoon to scrape it off.
– Slice it as thinly as you can.
– Leave the slices in warm water for about a minute.
– Dry them by pressing between two pieces of kitchen towel.
– Pack into a glass jar, cover with a mixture of sushi vinegar and sugar to taste.
– Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

3) The base is spinach – sautéed not wilted.
4) I’m guessing here, but the fact the steamed and green-ended carrot sticks are pointed and crossed suggests the chef/plater is trying for an ironic chopsticks thing because everything was ironic back then. [Note: The food in the photograph is arranged too “casually” to be authentic nineties but they’ve got the retro cheesy irony right. But no, I don’t miss the nineties.]
The salmon. It’s glazed with something that looks like a combination of butter, soy sauce and honey.

This is also good glaze for steamed carrots. The three ingredients have a powerful affinity like that between balsamic vinegar, black pepper and strawberries.

In passing, pickled plum and shisō [ume shisō; 梅しそう] also have an amazing affinity. The pickled plum brings sweetness and bitterness while shisō brings umami to the table. Add salt and you have an addictive combination that hits all taste buds.

6) To top it off, a piece of steamed pak-choi that, like the pickled ginger, would would go well with the salmon.

I won’t deconstruct this next, but food rings were the equivalent of slip-form shuttering and gave height to amorphous foods resistant to stacking. Kitchens had sets of various diameters and depths.

Tall food never delivered its promised cross-section of flavours. A single prod would compromise whatever structural integrity there was, and the construction would unceremoniously collapse or topple. It didn’t matter because, for one wondrous minute, tall food existed as an impressive and magical edifice. Few images survive. The ninetees had no smartphones, Instagram or culture of photographing food and thinking everyone cared what you ate. It’s thus all the more important to remember tall food because its legacy lives on. Fastcodesign beat me to it by a few years [rats!] and made the salient point that tall food was a way of making new American restaurant output look different from that of the rest of the world, and thus identifiable as a thing.

I first became aware of this trend jumping the species barrier to architecture with MVRDV’s Netherlands’ Pavilion for the 2010 Hannover EXPO. MVRDV had been working up to this with their 1997 Leidschenveen Town Center project but the Hannover pavilion represented various Dutch landscapes stacked into a pavilion and people saw in it a Dutch ingenuity to make the most of available land. There’s no way of knowing now whether people actually believed this or if it was just some PR thought implant.

What we do know is that the stacked look took off and, within five years, everyone was doing it. You could make your building look deconstructed yet constructed at the same time, escewing expensive curves in favour of easybuild blocks having a degree of cantilever limited only by your budget.

MVRDV are still doing it. For an image-thirsty audience raised on novely, the only real challenge architectural image providers have these days is to see how much coverage can be generated by regulation cantilevers not erring on the side of mundanity. [c.f. Architectural Myths #12: The Daring Cantilever]

OMA made great contributions to the genre, with their Museum Plaza (left, below) in Louisiana first hitting our screens in 2003. After the divorce, REX couldn’t get it up. Stacked buildings hit a ceiling, or at least their engineering consultancy fees and estimated construction costs did.

By the time ZHA added curvy stacks to the genre, there were already new buildings that were horizontal stacks [the new landscraper?!] or a bit of both.

We’re now working our way through the variants.

[The semester after the New Inhumanism post, I amused myself riffing on post-and-lintel construction in the style of OMA.]

There’s not all that many ways buildings can be made strange. The persistence of building stacks is testament to the eternal architect challenge to deny the intrinsic sense of column and slab construction but within budgetary constraints. This game has two levels: the higher one has the larger budgets and sheer unlikeliness of cantilver is presented as – and obediently taken to be – an indicator of design excellence.

Even if the other level achieves everything with budgets less stellar, the dogged pursuit of maximum cantilever to budget ratio is still presented and accepted as an indicator of design effort. As long as images such as these next flood the internet, stacked buildings will live on as a student trope and not just another item in an architect’s bag of tricks.

Municipalities like stacked buildings, or at least allow themselves to be convinced the device breaks down the mass of a building that is most likely to be significantly larger than anything around it. The power of this narrative as an indicator of design effort shouldn’t be underestimated because it gives stakeholders and non-stakeholders alike a means of comprehending and, if need be, defending the building. Big money is at stake.


[c.f. Moneymaking Machines #4: 2 World Trade Center (a.k.a. 14% MORE BIG!!)]

What we have then, is another way of making buildings not appear as big as they are. Existentially speaking, this is a denial of facticity, as is choosing to represent a number of tenants or functions that may not correspond with its reality, or implying a sequence of construction/assemblage that didn’t happen. These all indicate an absence of authenticity. [c.f. Existential Architecture: Being There] This is no surprise.

In the nineties, breaking down the mass would have been spoken or written with quotation marks around it to show the writer wanted to convey the meaning of creating the appearance of a smaller apparent mass. This wouldn’t happen now. Post Modernism cared more about the representation of something than its reality and, although the style may have gone the way of tall food, its lasting damage was to make us comfortable using language formerly used to describe reality, to describe representations of it. This is not ending well.  

In the meantime, the artful composition and the objet d’art are our currently prefered ways of making breakfast and dessert look different. The former is faux-architectural and the latter faux-natural – which makes it faux-architectural as well.