Taryn Shppard looks into how a proposed mixed townhouse, commercial, and lettuce farm building downtown fits into a growing global trend of grown architecture.
Another new development has been proposed for downtown near Hamilton Ave. The old Swift Meats industrial building on Brine Street will be converted into ten townhouses and commercial space. The Lettuce Farm, which has been growing hydroponic lettuce and herbs in this building for the past 12 years will continue to operate there, with the living spaces on the upper levels. The development group have described the building’s style as ‘industrial contemporary’.
There will also be a new laundromat in the building which will exist in a symbiotic relationship with the Lettuce Farm, which will use excess heat and CO2 from the laundromat to help grow their produce.
The combination of living space, agricultural/industrial, and commercial activity in one building is new for downtown. It takes ‘mixed use’ to a whole other level: the multiple uses do not simply co-exist, they are dependent on one another.
This project reminds me of the work of Terreform ONE (the ONE stands for Open Network Ecology), who work in a similar theme but much larger and much more radical. This architecture studio is led by Mitchell Joachim, and their work combines biological systems into structures that people can live in. Known for their ‘bio-design’, Terreform ONE is all about developing cyclical resource networks, where waste products of one function support another, much like the laundry-lettuce system. The research-based eco-architecture group often shock people with their organic, fleshy design aesthetic, particularly the Fab Tree Hab, a house grown out of vegetation, and the‘meat house’, made of living tissue grown in a lab.
Joachim is also a partner in the urban design group Planetary ONE. Their Super Dock proposal for an industrial waterfront in Brooklyn dramatically re-imagines ‘mixed use’ architecture. The project re-envisions an under-used area as a self-sustaining working waterfront where green industries use experimental technologies in service to the environment and the economy; a place where nature and industry co-exist and thrive together.
The dock is intentionally landscaped to mitigate climatic issues, and prioritizes pedestrian movement. It has five distinct docks. One is for ship building with massive scale 3-D rapid prototyping, another is for research in restorative ecology, another is for manufacturing solar panels, and another houses phytoremediation (plants that clean polluted water) barges for sewer overflow. The structural forms of the dock are like rising and falling waves over the site.
The Super Dock proposal responds to a growing sense of urgency for architects and planners to merge industry, ecology, and human activity in mutually beneficial ways. This growing movement is backed by emerging contemporary architecture theory focused on design that is about what a building can contribute to the needs of a community, industry, or ecology, beyond just being a pleasing form.
The new design of the Lettuce Farm building is informed by the existing building’s industrial history, while, at the same time, adhering to the new architectural movement towards buildings serving multiple, inter-dependant functions. It might not be quite as radical as growing houses out of the lettuce, but Compared to a lot of other new developments in the city, the Lettuce Farm building is much more progressive in its architecture.