Food Production: From Catalyst to Parasite

How food production defined and continues to redefined the urban tissue


To write a paper that critically contextualises where the thesis project sits in the cultural contemporaneous landscape.


Food production has and continues to define the urban tissue. It has evolved from a catalyst at the core of settlements to more of a parasite invading our cities and thus, redefining the urban tissue.

Paper’s Objective:

The first part of this paper explores how food production was a catalyst and at the core of the settlement’s development. The second chapter explores case studies, which will lead to a chapter on the current methods of urban agriculture, before analysing parasitic modern day examples of food production in the city. This essay aims to analyse how food production has been defining the urban tissue throughout history and how food production has evolved from a catalyst to a parasite in our present day.

Chapter 1: The History of Food Production

Humans have always had a close relationship with food. We depend on it for our survival. However, we have gone from living amongst nature and our food to picking something in a supermarket and putting it on a plate. Several factors changed and triggered the world we know today, population growth, migration to non abundant land, requirement of nutrition, climate change and over hunting and extinction. All these factors influenced the need for food production bring settlements and cities.

The Agricultural Revolution:
Approximately 12ooo years ago the agricultural revolution forms the first settlements. The nomadic way of life was no longer supporting the expanding population, and thus people began to tame plants and animals. This is what we know as farming. As food production thrived, population continued to grow paving the way for cities, kingdoms, empires and mega empires.

The Establishments of Markets:
The shift from subsistence farming to markets and mass production allowed cities and settlements to expand and thrive.

Science and Technology:
As science and technology developed, it provided humans with new opportunities. The heavy plough allowed dense soil to be broken up. Refrigeration and the steamboat allowed for food to be transported across the globe. This all allowed humans to settle on land that previously provided no food or little food.

Chapter 2: Case Studies

The Cordilleras, Philippines: Catalyst
The ability to grow rice, on these steep slopes and at these altitudes, allowed the Ifuago people to settle in some of the most picturesque locations. Their knowledge of nature and hydraulics allowed them to build the magnificent rice terraces. Food production was the driver that allowed settlements to thrive in the most remote locations.

London, United Kingdom: Catalyst
London’s urban tissue was once defined by food production. Different streets were for making and selling different types of food. For example, Pudding Lane was the meat district, pudding meaning offal. Breadstreet was the only place you could buy bread. These streets were characterised by their activities and the smells.
Victory Gardens, World War II: Parasite
When food became scarce during the Wars, governments encouraged people to plant their own food. People were taking over any possible free space from parking lots to roof tops and even window boxes. However, when it was no longer a necessity people forgot about these gardens. For a period of time food production was a parasite in our cities redefining the urban tissue.

Dutch Greenhouses, The Netherlands: Parasite
The Netherlands is the second largest producer of agricultural products. This is due to its forward thinking and innovative greenhouses and farmers. Greenhouse span 36 square miles often bridging the gap between the cities and countryside, impacting the urban tissue.

Chapter 3: Methods of Urban Agriculture

Urban agriculture is often divided into either vertical farming or zero-acreage farming. Vertical farming can be defined as growing food vertically in disused or new spaces usually with hydroponic or aeroponic methods. It avoids soil degradation and creates a closed loop system for the water. However, zero-acreage farming,  uses the existing building stock to farm in and on existing structures, thus requiring no new land.

Methods used in Urban Agriculture:

Chapter 4: Food Production as a Parasite in the City

It is uncertain what the future city will look like, but food production is once again having a substantial impact on the urban tissue. As many cities are well established, food production is evolving into a parasite that is slowly taking over existing buildings or unused land. However, it is also being integrated into design of new structures. In this case it is parasitic because it is taking what it needs from the building. For example, heat and water can often be tapped into. 

Overtime four key factors, population growth, food scarcity, climate change, and resource scarcity have triggered a change in food production and redefined the urban tissue. We are in a time where these factors are once again at the forefront of discussions. So what will the future city look like?

Food Production: From Catalyst to Parasite is a project of IAAC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia developed in the Master of Advanced Architecture 2019/20 by
Students: Fiona Demeur and Faculty: Manuel Gausa and Jordi Vivaldi