Continuing with our little series of student projects from Nannette Jackowski and Ricardo de Ostos's vertical studio at the Architectural Association, this is Samantha Lee's proposal for a farm at King's Cross London which “grows, manufactures and sells medicinal herbs.”
Lee essentially answered the central question of the studio — Can extremes of programmatic effectiveness blend with the fragility of human habitat? — by turning the farm into a civic infrastructure similar in function to hospitals and neighborhood clinics.
With the notorious past the area has with drugs, and in this process of regeneration, this farm plays a role in its journey of healing. Herbs were selected according to ailments specific to a city like London – for example stress, insomnia, colds and depression.
Urban agriculture as detox centers for urban living.
Perhaps a much richer, more architecturally inclined Jamie Oliver — in a similar neo-eugenics quest to make thinner, fitter, happier Britons — may want to buy the designs and actually build it.
Further integrating this infrastructure into the site, “the growth of the herbs takes place within nets, stretched along the deteriorated brick wall of Regent’s canal, where visitors either pass by to experience the fragrance of the herbal gardens, or can purchase from the pharmacies. The wall also acts as a division between the staff and the visitor where back passages are used to access the herbs.”
The central element of the design is the Gas Holders, a Victorian-era building since dismantled and now reconstructed here. It is the “space for the factory and its machinery necessary to wash, dry, grind and distill these herbs into their commercial state. There, the visitor finds walkways and look out points completing the experience of this factory and farm.”
In appearance — and this could be mostly due to the model's chromatic choices — the structure looks like a rustic cottage for an apothecary, something the Crusader turned monk-herbalist-sleuth, Cadfael, might have produced if he were at the AA.
Or a steampunk version of Hugh Fearnley–Whittingstall's River Cottage.
It might also be something that came out of Peter Jackson's SFX studio. The Farmacy, after all, seems to be subconsciously engaging in Tolkienesque fantasies. It belongs in Middle Earth, not in a contemporary global city such as London. In fact, the reconstructed Gas Holders reminds one of water wheels, a symbol of industrial progress but now more often a signifier of the pastoral.
All of which could be Lee's central argument, her “urban script”: to “blend” well into the spatial fabric of the city without people turning riotous at the sight of some industrial monstrosity, it's best for urban farms to mine the mythical rural idyll for nostalgia and vernacular forms, reinterpreted.
No one wants the Fordist hell beneath Metropolis. They want the bucolic, peacock-strewn gardens in the sky.
King's Vineyard London