Architects and architecture students are increasingly concerned with food production, designing everything from edible schoolyards (Work AC) to pig skyscrapers (MVRDV), as well as entirely new urban landscapes of cultivation (Nicholas de Monchaux's Local Code). But what about an edible architecture—an architecture that is designed to be consumed, whether by humans or our companion species?
Back in 2007, I taught a workshop on hybrid programming to architecture students at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. Part of the aim with this five-day-long exercise was to find alternatives to the traditional model-making materials, which at this school did not go much beyond cardboard and glue. To achieve this, on the first workshop day, I took the students to the local supermarket, and presented the store to them as a resource for model-making materials. From packaging to Saran wrap, and pills to broom hair, I surveyed the store with them, as a palace of alternative construction materials.
To my surprise, food was used more than I expected. One student used broccoli for columns and banana peels as flooring. Another used salmon skin to clad her building (a shortlived façade) and a third built the structural systems out of pasta (which he later steamed and the building slowly collapsed). Some included food as part of their narrative as well; the Dairy and Cinema shared the same space, divided only by the projection screen, which was a huge suspended milk container. If the dairy sales were too good, you might only see the bottom half of the film. The Observatory and Bakery was mostly built with Swedish crisp bread, painted blue. The astronomers would often get the munchies in the middle of the night, and eat away at the premises—the Hansel and Gretel syndrome I called it—only to have to pay the baker to repair the damage (with more bread, of course).
The story hardly ended back in 2007. Presently, at Unit 3 at The Bartlett, one of my students has this semester designed a Teashop and Mushroom farm.Through her thorough research on mycelium (the vegetative part of fungus and mushrooms, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like underground roots), she found it is currently used as insulation material for construction. In her design, through the humidity and steam produced during tea making, mushrooms grow out of the walls, filling the cavities with insulating mycelium, and slowly overtaking/becoming the structure.
Inevitably, this brings to memory the house in Roseville, California, where bees had inhabited the ducting and honey was oozing out of the walls and electrical sockets.The owners were worried that the honey would attract the ants, and the ants…well, you can imagine where this is going.
Eating your own house might seem like an absurd idea, but absurdity often presents itself unannounced. I recently built a small pavilion in Beijing solely out of bamboo. At the inauguration, a guest was sitting on a bamboo chair inside the pavilion, using her own bamboo chopsticks to eat some fresh bamboo shoots.
As I stared at her, my mouth hanging open in surprise, she offered me a bite.
This article is the result of Nicola Twiley's invitation to Food for Thinkers, a week-long, distributed, online conversation looking at food-writing from as wide and unusual a variety of perspectives as possible. Between January 18 and January 23, 2011 at GOOD.is/food.