© 2008-2016 Alexandra Gens   
Food Culture
Instructor Anastasia Congdon    Course RISD, SkinDeep, Spring 2010

0, Overview
This project proposed an adaptive reuse of a New England mill structure to create a center for the conscious growing, cooking and eating of food.

1, Initial Observations
With an aggregation of heavily modified, historic mill buildings, the great potential of the site is complicated by the mismatched nature of its structures. This was understood by studying a large circular opening in a masonry wall in the 59 Blackstone building. The opening, built to house a large industrial fan, still in place but boarded up long ago, allows a small silver of light to cut between wood planks and steel blades to let a minuscule shred of sun filter down into the industrial thread room. Studying this detail (A) simultaneously illuminated the knotted and choked nature of the layered buildings as well provided the ability to understand the buildings as more than just a series of disconnected rooms. Instead, there were moments in the structure where the building almost de-laminated from itself (B), pushing itself up or out to present itself as a sun surface. After a group effort on an as-built set (C), and in order to better understand the delaminating gesture a study of the buildings' structural grain was undertaken (D). Understanding the bones of the structure simplified the disjointed spaces revealing the potential spatial continuities (E).


/A. Slip of light detail



/B. Sketch of delaminating grain [Another]



/C. Example from as-built set



/D. Building grain study



/E. Design parti



2, Viability of Vertical Farming
After group work, where a proposal focusing on 59 & 65 Blackstone's role as a center was explored [Diagram], the group divided to return to individual work in which I began questioning the viability of vertical farming. While the profit of vertical farming is much higher per foot over conventional farming, the energy used by heating and lights and the massive water load in an urban infrastructure (in a structure not precisely up to the challenges of massive weight additions) presented themselves as serious problems. The question then was: what¡¯s wrong with the way we farm now? As identified by an earlier group study (F), the distance between production and consumption presents both a massive carbon footprint and a massive intellectual disconnect. Yet, all transportation, not just food transportation, is 3rd on the list of contributors to the greenhouse gases. First is energy production and second is the livestock industry. Americans, on average, eat 7 times as much meat as the FDA recommends. Several studies have drawn links between lifestyle diseases (heart disease, diabetes, some cancers) and countries with high meat consumption, such as America. As the overconsumption of meat is thus a threat to the environment and people, the importance of vegetable availability is equaled by the importance of diet knowledge. The project shifted from vertical farm towards the idea that food is not merely what we eat, but what we grow, or what is grown and that we buy, what we cook, then what we eat, and even what we recycle.


/F. Background research on food sustainability: Whole Foods, Farmers market and Stop & Shop apple transportation mapping by season




3, Program
The program of my proposal provides the means to begin this cultural shift. It exists in two cycles (G): education and purchasing. The educational cycle is broken down in three zones: 1. Making the ability to adapt ones built environment (at its most essential level a wood shop), 2. Growing facilities to lend actual experience to various types of growing (seedling nursery, dark light growing, hydroponics, aquaponics and seasonal growing), and 3. Cooking the ability to cook and the knowledge of what to cook (at its most essential level a kitchen space with space for an audience). The purchasing cycle has two tracts: 1. Market answering the very pertinent question of availability (supported by a private hydroponic system), 2. Cafe offering a food option for the quite local high schoolers roaming for lunch (H).


G. Cycle diagram/



H. Program diagram on site plans/




4, Stents
Then if the program is to reflect different stages in this cultural understanding of food, the proposal is then to open the knotted site to its potential and expose connections between the different programs (E). As one is purchasing food, how can they be aware of the means by which their very food is being produced? Massive green walls align themselves to the previously identified planes of light the buildings idiosyncratically provide, and cut between floors and program. Like a stent, they open the buildings along the seams of grain, breaking spaces previously conceived as a one-story singularity into two-story connective spaces. Some exist externally, some step inside for non-seasonal growing and, as a response, the grain weakens between them and the sun, allowing growth. Similarly, the pedestrian edge opens to the vehicular edge, and circulation is allowed directly through the site with a weak-grain circulation path.


I. Unfolded elevations/



J. Diagrammed elevations/



K. Site and roof plan with winter sun study/



L. Sketch section perspectives/



M. Rendering of market greenwall/