In fall of 2008, Rice University solicited proposals for a “community garden.” What they needed – and what we suggested – was a new take on the factory farm.
Anyone can put in some raised beds and a meandering gravel path and call it a garden, but in this context (i.e. 6000 undergraduates consuming three meals a day), the exercise would be merely symbolic. We felt that Rice should take this opportunity to do something that not everyone can: build a high-tech, high-production lab and food factory.
We conceived the project with three primary agendas:
- To produce a truly absurd amount of local, organic food.
- To provide a site for agricultural experimentation.
- To encourage public-institution interaction in a hands-on environment.
Underlying our programmatic solution was a technological one: to use aquaponics – a variation of the more-familiar hydroponic agricultural techniques. Inserting hardy fishes into the process allows for an extremely efficient, almost closed-loop system where the fish produce fertilizer for the plants and the plants filter the water. Beyond increased productivity, this approach also supports the school’s pedagogical agenda and allows for its scientific expertise to have an effect within the immediate community.
Finally, the project seeks to deploy this technological approach as an aesthetic and experiential strategy. Thousands of trays stacked to just above eye level create an effect analogous to the shelves of the university’s library, encouraging chance encounters amid this surreal fusion of technology and greenery. A grid of voids within this visual density plays host to “episodes” which provide programmatic support and diversion.