Whoever has seen the result of one of the hundreds of urban idea competitions probably noticed the popularity of projects that introduced urban farms that most of the time consist in overlapping fields on floors one by one with at best (or at worst, I guess) a sexy aesthetic (both for the tower and its representation) as a selling strategy. Those projects are clearly in accordance with the elaboration of a new “green” moral enforced by capitalism that is, this way, forgotten to be the cause of what many call the Ecological Crisis. It was not so hard for capitalism to indeed mutate in order to adapt to a new demand from the followers of this new moral.
Nevertheless, some people are smart and honest enough to acknowledge that what makes the “sustainable” quality of a project is not linked to the density of green on the images that represent it. In this spirit, Catrina Stewart develop a City Farmhouse within the frame of the Unit 12 at the Bartlett, tutored by Jonathan Hill, Elizabeth Dow and Matthew Butcher. Her self-sufficient tower consists in an aggregation of mechanical and biological devices that registers in the Bartlett tradition as initiated by Peter Cook when he directed it.
On the contrary of the moralization of ecology I was evoking above, Catrina tackles the problem with great inventiveness and humor and it is a real relief and pleasure to explore all the details of her project. From the toilets that are transformed in machines of human manures for agriculture to the cows whose methane’s farts are being collected directly in an inflatable balloon that they carry on their back via the elevators directly supplied by the power extracted from domesticated eels, the project is full of devices that could appear in a great book by William Heath Robinson (see previous article)
Here is the text written by Catrina to explain her project:
LONDON CITY FARMHOUSE:
The City Farmhouse project is a prototype that looks at forming new self-sufficient communities which integrate agriculture and housing within the city of London.
The Farmhouses and vertical colour gardens will be open to the public, and will rely on its colours and visitors to achieve self-sufficiency. Visitors and residents will be expected to make a donation of faeces and urine when they visit the building. These will be used to produce water, compost and electricity for the Farmhouses. Methane gas released by the waste produced in biogas digesters can then be used directly or to produce electricity.
Without its public toilets the community would not be able to survive. The more visitors the building can attract the more power, food and water will be produced. New public toilets will be erected across the borough in order to collect human waste to power the Farmhouses. New communities will begin to grow around the more popular public toilets, creating new Farmhouses.
The Farmhouse project explores the use of colour to attract people to the building and entice them into using the public toilets by using the same principles used for colour in marketing and advertising. Colours are therefore used less for their aesthetics and more for their functional properties.
Nothing in the Farmhouse is disposed of, everything is recycled and reused to fuel something else. Old and new technologies are used to harness energy and food from almost anything, animals are no longer used for their meat but rather as a source of energy. Cows are farmed for their methane gas, electric eels are kept as pets to power the elevators in the building and fruits are used to to power the street lights.
Methane Collector on Cows
Farmhouse Public Toilets (Push !)
Farmhouse Communal Kitchens
A design for the Farmhouse kitchens where a giant solar oven is used to cook meals for the community.
Fruit Powered Streetlights
Electric eels will be kept as pets in fish tanks to power the lifts. The innate electricity discharged by the eels will be harnessed every time the creatures brush up against sheets of copper wires placed along the inner surfaces of the glass. A conventional elevator in a 20 floor apartment block will use 100 Wh per round trip. 20 eels, producing 500 Wh each time they move, should ensure that the lift is constantly moving. When the lift stalls the eels will need to be woken up and excited to get the lift moving again.
Self-sufficient Accommodation for the Farmhouse Residents
There will be 150 of these dwellings located throughout the Farmhouse to provide accommodation for the whole community. Each room will have all the essentials one person would need to lead a comfortable life: They will will grow some of their own food, they will have a stair-bed and they will be able to cook food and boil water for their morning tea in the solar kettle.