Cultivating a community

October 11, 2012  |  News, Research

From monoculture agricultural, social and economic diversification.
Cibicworkshop with Giovanni Leoni

In recent years we have carried out several projects that centered on the connection between farming at different scales and housing.

At the outset the focus was not the ideal of a bucolic life, but the attempt to come up with an economically accessible response to the theme of leisure and vacationing in the countryside for a middle class which has already seen heavy dents made in its purchasing power and its image.

The first of these projects was called La città deli orti (“The City of Vegetable Gardens”) and subtitled Regaining possession of the seasons (Microrealities: A project about places and people, Venice Biennale, 2004), and set out to provide a sort of answer to this need, a contemporary upgrade in terms of aesthetics and variety of functions with respect to the model of the pensioner’s vegetable garden.

It was in fact an inhabited agricultural park, an eco-village that envisaged, alongside the experience of the kitchen garden and its seasons, a whole range of activities that could be carried out throughout the year.

ln the years that followed the theme of urban and peri-urban vegetable gardens seen in terms of solutions to the problem of obtaining a safer and less costly supply of food was widely debated, helping to foster the myth that they represented a solution to food requirements of the community in terms of quantity as well.

The limitation of this practice is that, even if applied with continuity, the amount of food produced is far below demand.

The great change of course in the direction of our research came out of an encounter with a commercial farmer, and started from the consideration that the logic of today’s monoculture approach to cultivation produces an income that relies primarily on subsidies and is creating ever greater environmental problems.

This state of affairs can lead to a reflection on models that on the basis of a renewed balance in farming, will integrate economics, social welfare and environmental sustainability.

In these years a great deal of attention has been focused on the argument that densification of the city is the principal way of increasing environmental and social sustainability. This attitude has quickly become widespread, producing generalizations that, if analyzed in detail, can prove inappropriate. The reality is that there are only a few medium to large-sized cities in our country. Municipalities with 10,000 inhabitants make up 98.3% of the total. Two-thirds of the country is farmland and the part that is actually cultivated accounts for 42.7% of the total area.

The experimentation that we have been carrying out with the farmer Giovanni Leoni, for about a year now, concerns the study of a new type of settlement, with a controlled ecological footprint and a high percentage of self-sufficiency in energy and food.

The idea is that of superimposing farm and residential area, redesigning from the foundations an integrated system in which energy, production and consumption are part of a closed natural cycle with a very low impact.

It is a new model of habitation that creates new and sustainable life styles. Having farm and residential community overlap would make it possible to achieve true zero food miles, guaranteeing the base of an agricultural economy adjusted to the population, which would benefit from feeding itself with better products at a lower cost, activating new economic centers in the territory and ensuring a high quality of life.

The result has been the re-planning of a farming on-demand, calibrated on a staple diet, that can produce, using current technologies and relying on the advantages of an integrated system, up to 85% of the food requirements of a population liv-ing in a context like that of the Po Valley.

On the basis of their nutritional values we have selected 90 typical local crops that, rotated through the year, could meet the food requirements of a community, guaranteeing greater biodiversity of the territory and as a result of their rotation nee-ding a very low input of chemicals. In this way they would help to restore a portion of the soil’s organic material and offer a production of high quality.

An integrated planning of housing and agriculture also offers a wide range of possible advantages in terms of energy use and services, from the reutilization of water to the recycling of energy and the disposal of waste, increasing efficiency, reducing costs and producing high economic and social value.

A settlement of this type could accommodate a new community of people who want to have access to food of high quality while saving up to 30% of its standard cost, choosing a life in contact with nature just a short distance from the city and making use of a low-consumption energy system.

A new model of agricultural settlement could rep-resent a means of integrating needs and supply for various economic, categories that find no response today (farmers who are unable to make a living without the system of subsidies; professionals and technologically up-to-date creative people seeking new ways of life; investors looking for new models of housing in a saturated market).

Together they can constitute new economic centers in the territory, creating models of community that include a mix of functions and a sufficient number of people to generate a lively system of relations.

This could be one of the great challenges for our future.

Published on:
The Four Seasons
Architecture of Made in Italy from Adriano Olivetti to the Green Economy
Curated by Luca Zevi
Catalog to the Italian Pavilion at the 13th Venice Biennale of Architecture

They talk about us: Agrivillaggio.

Cultivating a community
is a project by Cibicworkshop with Giovanni Leoni

Cibicworkshop team
Aldo Cibic, Tommaso Corà and Chuck Felton with Andrea Francesconi, Michele Novello and Alessandro Squatrito

For further informations:
Biennale di Venezia http://www.labiennale.org
Padiglione Italia http://www.labiennale.org/it/architettura/mostra/padiglione-italia/


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