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MetaboliCity - Urban growers

30 Sep 2009

MetaboliCity is the name for a vision of a city that metabolises its resources and waste to supply its inhabitants with all the nourishment they need and more.

As a participatory design research project it explores how designers can intervene sensitively within local urban food growing cultures by providing a design thinking and crafting that may help to sustain these initiatives and catalyse larger positive changes in the surrounding environment.

The team has installed urban grow-kits accompanied by a set of guidelines to be tested and developed at a broad sample of communities in London, UK and Brussels, Belgium. This is a design-service system that integrates both traditional and hi-tech industrialized agricultural techniques into the fabric of the built environment whilst simultaneously being rooted in an ethical systems thinking.

The project is led by Rachel Wingfield of Studio Loop.pH based at Central Saint Martins, London and funded by the Audi Design Foundation.

MetaboliCity is about empowering people to grow food in the most challenging of urban spaces, be it indoor window farms or vertical green cladding that clings to the buildings. Design studio Loop.pH has been developing lightweight, architectural structures together with soilless growing techniques for the project. The rigid 3D lace provides support for plants and irrigation and can be retro-fitted to buildings or become free standing vertical gardens for indoor or out.

The agenda is driven by how design can be used to bring about positive change. Recognizing that it is social innovation and open collaboration that is needed to address some of the most pressing problems of today. Rather than favoring single solutions for diverse and complex problems the outcome of MetaboliCity is a diverse portfolio of solutions to empower city-dwellers to create sustainable human habitats.

The project explores how designers can work in multiple ways, taking on different roles within an interdisciplinary context, mediating between experts and amateurs in the field of urban agriculture and regeneration. The initial case study, based at Central Saint Martins, School of Art and Design, is to test the feasibility of urban agri-tecture kits with a broad spectrum of participants that covers four main city activities for small-scale amateur growing; Restaurants, Community and public spaces, Workplaces such as offices and schools and Housing both social and private.

The role of the designer in this project is that of a facilitator, mediator and co-researcher working alongside the participants, offering designerly ways of thinking, documenting and crafting within each case. A new collective imagination of the city is cultivated through workshops and the weaving and planting of temporary grow spaces within each of these local contexts. The participants of MetaboliCity share their experiences via a collaborative online platform to create a live journal for the project and knowledge ecology. This is a dynamic space to document activities, create a library of resources and support discussions.

A series of MetaboliCity Workshops and instruction sessions are underway with the participants to provide a think tank for UA initiatives and a structured platform to discuss possible future, long-term developments.

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