Transplanting post-urban values
Value Farm creates value by cultivating the land as a collective effort. The project intersects issues of urban transformation, architecture and urban agriculture with an international cultural event, and explores the possibilities of urban farming in the city and how that can integrate with community-building. It forms part of the Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture 2013 (UABB), within Ole Bouman’s Value Factory located at the Shekou Former Guangdong Glass Factory in Shenzhen, a site that is itself undergoing radical transformation. Responding to the Biennale’s theme of ‘Urban Border’ and Shekou’s post-industrial regeneration, Value Farm is realized as new architectural and landscape design providing permanent infrastructure for the site’s future as well as a substantial piece of performative, growing event-architecture throughout the biennale.
The design inspiration from Hong Kong is twofold. First is the trend of flourishing rooftop farms in the city’s dense urbanity. Besides creating a green oasis above the urban chaos, reconnecting city dwellers with nature and the therapeutic hands-on experience of growing crops, urban farming offers a more sustainable, secure, accessible food supply as well as pointing to an attitude, lifestyle change. Moreover, the use of hitherto untapped ‘artificial land resource’ (rooftops) in dense urban areas as productive terrain can improve the micro-climate, respond concretely to the contemporary ecological imperative beyond dressing up “sustainability” with energy-saving features and devices such as vertical greening.
Second is the lively urban vernacular of the Central district’s 170 year-old Graham Street wet market precinct, whose low-rise fabric embody the city’s fine-grain metamorphosis. The precinct is currently facing wholesale redevelopment and with it the potential eradication of the city’s self-evolving meshwork of spatio-cultural practices. Value Farm speculates retroactively turning rooftops of an entire demolished wet market block into farming terrain. Nature is excavated anew from Hong Kong’s urban past; rooftop configurations are taken as “new ground” to cultivate a viable post-urban future.
The concept is transplanted onto a full-scale 2,100m2 open site within the factory premises as “test ground”. Brick enclosures are abstracted and compressed “rooftop farming plots” whose different heights allow varying soil depths for different crops. Original stair cores are converted into brick platforms and open pavilions to accommodate future activities. An irrigation pond collecting the site’s natural underground water source, an integrated sprinkler system, nursery as well as projection room and exhibition facilities are added.
Re-valuing the Site
Instead of treating “landscape” as a passive, detached ‘view of the land’, Value Farm emphasizes curative transformation. The site’s existing qualities are revealed, features such as old walls and large trees redeemed and given new life, resources such as the natural underground water are gathered by digging a new irrigation pond, and simply decorating it with the large rocks uncovered by the excavation. Resonating with the Value Factory’s new production of ‘culture’ within the factory buildings for the Biennale, Value Farm reworks the site to produce “nature”, reviving the land’s fecundity. Invoking the analogy of the self-reliant convent lifestyle, the site is also conceptualized as an enclosed garden configured for farming and physical cultivation.
Transplanting post-urban values
Besides conceptual inspiration for Value Farm’s design, Hong Kong character, seeds and workforce are injected to realize a productive performance. Hybrid crops reflect Hong Kongers’ alternative and healthy taste, while addressing food safety and accessibility, urban sustainability and self-sufficiency. Apart from creating and maintaining the farm, major events such as Sowing, Tasting and Market Festivals are organised to nurture cross-border exchange engaging local citizens, community groups, professionals and visitors. Hong Kong’s post-urban value is demonstrated via producing green, food, smell and taste in an engaging and most unexpected way.
While revalorizing disused industrial land in Shenzhen, Value Farm cultivates refreshing nourishment for all. Conceived at the outset as a hybrid ensemble of farm, fabricated urban ruins and public garden, it has been well-supported by community groups and well-received by the media, increasing the likelihood that it can endure and convert the site permanently to continue producing new value for all, serving as a test-bed for further propagations of such a participatory, urban farming-event-architecture.
Life beyond Biennale
Besides garnering popular support and abundant local enthusiasm, Value Farm has been awarded the Academic Committee Award from UABB for being at once “an important symbol of shared ecology” and a “prime example of an urban green environment”, while providing “organic continuity” both during and beyond the biennale. As we approach the end of the exhibition period, the Value Farm team is actively planning with the client, curators and local community groups as to how to maintain the farm’s flourishing as a long-term productive landscape and well-designed public space and multiple programmes for the benefit of all.
Design Team Gary Law, Bill So, Sam Wong
Curator (program) Tris Kee, Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong
Executive Partner Chi Fai Fung, Farming Consultant
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