Edgelands and Urban Agriculture
The theme of the Studio combines two topics that represent important issues of the contemporary urban condition and urban economy: edgelands, spaces between the urban and the rural which often don’t have a fixed destination and shape, and urban agriculture, an activity integrated into - and interacting with - the urban economic and ecological system. In the last years, agriculture, as a consistent function as well as a function bordering on the metropolitan context, has experienced a process of contraction and marginalization of its spaces, especially in many areas of the most industrialized countries. The outcomes of this urban growth model have produced negative effects on the ecological equilibrium on a large scale, and have often been considered inefficient for the supplying functions within the urban areas.
The emerging of themes focused on a new consideration of the role of the spaces in-between the urban and the rural and on the relationship of city and agriculture or of production and consumption and leisure, have drawn the attention of planning and urban and landscape design to a specific typology of “urban agriculture”, which plays economic, spatial, ecological and social roles. As stated by RUAF-Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture, “Urban agriculture is not a relict of the past that will fade away (urban agriculture increases when the city grows) nor brought to the city by rural immigrants that will lose their rural habits over time. It is an integral part of the urban system”. Besides the economical value of urban agriculture, planners and urban designers consider more and more the green and open space not only as an aesthetic and ecological issue, but also as potential social space for people, where creative and cultural activities, often integrated with new agricultural uses, can find an attractive destination.
The Studio aims at exploring these planning and design issues, implementing with an interdisciplinary approach the concept of "urban agriculture" and realizing design experiences at different scales, applied to some areas in the western sector of the city of Milan, within the framework of the project Re-forming Milan, taking in account the relationship with the Milan 2015 Expo site and the specific theme of the event “Feeding the planet. Energy for life”.
The Studio program includes a workshop at the ANCB – AEDES NETWORK CAMPUS in Berlin (DE), where relevant investments and projects have been dedicated since a long time to enhance the quality of green open spaces of different scale and typologies in the city and in the region.
Urban agriculture is increasingly becoming an important activity in urban economies, that can contribute significantly to the well being of farmers and other citizens, if properly managed. The growth of human settlements creates a competition between the traditional urban land uses and agriculture. While regional and urban planners have generally accepted the peri-urban zone as a mixed zone in terms of land use categories (including urban agriculture), the intra-urban zone in most cases remains a preserve for “traditional” urban uses. As it is argued in a recent study (Cities Farming for the Future - Urban Agriculture for Green and Productive Cities, 2006), urban agriculture, however, has the potential to prosper in modern cities because of its multiple functions and relations with city issues. Cities provide easy access to markets and a prevailing high demand for food. In fact urban agricultural practices have always been part of the city, but the integration into the urban economy is lacking in today’s urban planning and policies, despite a growing interest for its potential role. On the other side, transformation in urban economies has been often responsible for the creation of peripheral fringes affected by lack of destinations, even temporary, able to prevent their degradation, where urban agriculture could play a significant role in the field of economics, social policies, landscape and urban design.
In the Milan region, a very important planning issue has been achieved in the last decades with the approval of the Master Plan of the Parco Sud Milano, a very large green belt in the southern, western and eastern sectors of the region, where agricultural activities coexist with the re-use of former farm buildings (“cascine”) for agritourism or leisure activities. Despite the goals of the Parco Sud Master Plan and of other policies at the regional scale, an amount of derelict buildings and abandoned spaces characterizes the borders of the main city and of smaller municipalities, where the quality of urban or rural space is not clearly defined.
On the side of the urban scale approach, the Studio activity aims at the identification and description of some “edgelands” in the western sector of the city of Milan, to find out their territorial relationship with the 2015 Expo site and the possibilities of their destination for activities in the field of what will be defined (following the literature and some case studies) as “urban agriculture”: different issues will be considered, such as the accessibility, the local plans destinations, the quality of the existing landscape elements. Some guidelines for the destination of the areas and for some basic urban and landscape design issues in the form of a masterplan will be required as the outcome of the Studio.
The module of Representation will be based on the fact that the space we are dealing with can be considered as a book: it has to be read, understood and finally used for a specific purpose, in our case corresponding to the intention of transforming the same space into a new one, resulting from our design actions. We shall try to learn from places (also referring to case studies) and we will use the common representation tools to explain how they “work” before our intervention (phase of analysis) and after our proposals (phase of design). This methodology is particularly suitable if applied to the kind of places we shall be dealing with, such as the urban fringes, where the traditional cityscape is fading into a combination of built and unbuilt elements: infrastructures, urban voids, with mixed characters taken from urban, industrial and agricultural landscapes, resulting from natural and human facts. Students will be free to use any kind of communication tools, provided that the representations are effective: thematic mapping, diagrams, sections, simple work models will be the most common forms of representation.
The module of Architectural Design pays special attention to the physical and spatial consequences of those planning strategies fostering a strong focus on urban agriculture based programs. Considering Nature as an artifact, Land as a carpet for morphological and typological researches, landscape becomes an operative background for all actions, signs, traces and behaviours triggered by the extensive use of agriculture as a main actor in establishing a superior level of order.
In the exercices and reading/mapping or design experiences included in the Studio, it will be emphasized the close relationship between uses and covers of the land, building types hosting functions related to those uses, accessibility and mobility issues, physical densities, using architecture in the broader sense of the word to unfold the full potential of those hybrid edge territories where the growth of the city is tightly connected with non conventional urban farming attitudes. The scale of intervention will range from the assumptions immediately issued by the Urban Planning level to the micro size of artifacts, waterways, topography, and the comprehensive field of landscape design.
The Studio is a continuous workshop, granting 12 credits, focusing on urban processes of transformation on the topics around urban agriculture.
The Studio is a 13-15 weeks trajectory, plus a one-week final workshop, including projects, exercises, mappings and readings/writings experiences, giving shape to an educational environment where personal participation and continuous dedication to the activity of the workshop define an advanced learning atmosphere.
The reading/mapping and design experience will foster intensively a critical reading and design on the interaction among Urban planning issues and their economic feasibility and consequences, on accessibility and open space design criteria, either applied on the small scale of a spatially reduced portion of a given area or on the master plan of the entire area.
Lectures and case studies presented by the professors investigate an array of historic and contemporary points of the international debate. Presentations by visiting academics and professionals and site tours explore key issues from diverse viewpoints. Readings, group discussions and critiques provide support for design directions.
The Studio activity is developed either individually and in groups.
At the beginning of the Studio, students are individually asked to explore the territory of the given site following some of the thematic issues suggested and to convey the findings into a notebook, a graphically and conceptually although unformally organized booklet. The booklet will possibly include raw materials expressed on a variety of media such as: sketches, diagrams, conceptual and physical study models, photomontages, interviews, storyboards, urban images. That assignment is aimed to unfold a new urban meaning onto the areas mapped in the Booklet allowing the emergence of potentials, hidden qualities of the mapped situation. Research and representation are considered acts of interpretation, not rote documentation.
In small groups (2-3), students, following an interactive approach with the interdisciplinary teachers’ team, will identify a proposal for the destination of the chosen “edgeland” and for the concept plan, which will be implemented all during the Studio.
In addition to class attendance and studio assignments, students should set aside time each week to gather information and images on urban projects of interest. We will maintain an urban archive in the online studio folder (Corsi on line orDropbox) into which students can drop materials for everyone to use as a research resource.