Food for Thought: The Edible Futures Symposium

The symposium addressed issues of urban cultivation, processing, and distribution through the lens of food security and equality.

Food for Thought: The Edible Futures Symposium

“I think we have taken food for granted for too long, and we need to sit up and think about it very carefully,” stated C.J. Lim, Professor of Architecture & Urbanism at The Bartlett School, University College London, to introduce his keynote lecture, “Food City: The urban consequences of food transparency.” 

Although food issues relating to food security, agricultural sustainability, diet-related diseases, and social exploitation are of vital importance to the future prosperity of our cities, they are underrepresented in the public realm,” he added, identifying several of the salient topics of Edible Futures, a two-day public symposium that investigated the intersectional nature of food futures with environmental and social issues.

CJ Lim delivers his keynote address to an audience in the GUI Auditorium
C.J. Lim delivers “Food City: The urban consequences of food transparency” as the keynote at the Edible Futures symposium.

Organized by Architecture Section Head Phu Hoang and Assistant Professor of Architecture Erik Herrmann, the food-focused symposium was hosted by the Architecture Senior Studio whose semester-long research and design project will culminate with the annual Gui Competition. This year’s competition prompt asks students to propose a culinary institute in Chicago’s West Loop district, a former industrial site with a long history of food, labor, transportation, and civic engagement. From the symposium presentations that explored the relationships between food, architecture, climate, and cities, students were offered a broad research framework within which their designs can better articulate how architecture responds to these considerations.

Following the Friday evening lecture, invited guests representing the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning gathered on Saturday morning in the Center Space of Knowlton Hall. The varied backgrounds of the presenters offered multi-disciplinary interpretations of the cultural, political, and environmental impacts on urban spaces as a result of the ever-changing American food system.

“Food in the built and natural environments is multi-scalar, from the scale of regions and cities to the scale of architecture and interiors, and eventually to the scale of the body,” said Knowlton School Architecture Section Head Phu Hoang. “All of these scales implicate design and its ability to either strengthen or dismantle the systemic inequities of food access and health. In other words, design is not neutral when it comes to food futures.”

Aleksandra Jaeschke speaks to the center space audience during the Ingest panel discussion
Aleksandra Jaeschke, Forbes Lipschitz, and Karen Lewis participate during Ingest, an Edible Futures symposium panel.

Ingest, the first of the program’s two panels was moderated by Karen Lewis, associate professor of architecture and senior architecture studio coordinator, and included: Christy Cheng (OMA), Aleksandra Jaeschke (UT Austin), Meredith TenHoor (Pratt), Forbes Lipschitz (Knowlton School), and Germane Barnes (University of Miami).

The initial focus of this panel explored the intersection of design and food systems, beginning with Cheng’s “Alimentary Design” which presented Harvard GSD projects that considered the multiple scales and processes involved in the food industry, followed by Jaeschke’s “In Emergency Break Glass,” whose presentation speculated on the viability of international strategies for a more equitable “greenhouse ruralism” and engaged “urban (horti)culture.” Panelists also offered design precedents for justice-oriented food systems, data on the current “beast mode” in the animal agriculture industry, and a historical/speculative glimpse into typical Black American kitchens.

The second panel, Digest, was moderated by Knowlton School Professor of Architecture Ann Pendleton-Jullian, and included: Nick McDermott (Future Expansion), Chris Otter (Ohio State), Angel Arroyo-Rodríguez (Ohio EPA), Ben Willis (Parable Coffee), Kareem Usher (Knowlton School), and Peggy A. Williams (OneLinden Cooperatives).

Digest panelists gather around a table in the Knowlton Hall center space.
The Digest panel on the second day of the symposium.

McDermott’s “Two Territories” presented two projects, a Bronx outdoor restaurant seating structure and a cooperative housing plan for an agricultural tract. Both explored how the architectural process can build cooperative and caring constituencies. Topics also included an historical review of food systems and an EPA study on successful food waste management practices in U.S. households. The panel concluded with overviews of two recently created local entities—an Ohio State-Linden community partnership and Parable Coffee.

Moderated by Hoang, the symposium concluded with a conversation that synthesized the day’s central themes of the current environmental impacts of modern agricultural production and how innovative design can contribute to a more equitable and just use of the environment. “An important focus of the symposium was about food traveling, whether the movements were cultural migrations, livestock traveling, or waste streams,” reflected Hoang. “Either limiting or extending the mobility of food involves speculating about its future. The social and environmental impact of food futures needs to be considered when designing for food systems that accompany, amplify, or complicate architectural transformations.” 

“The Edible Futures symposium broadened the context in which I understood the American and global food system,” said senior architecture student Alex Hubert, who is in the iterative design stage of his Gui project. “Having heard from such a wide range of experts, the symposium helped me frame how I will approach the work in the Gui competition, from identifying a relatable topic to using architecture and design as a tool to address the topic.”

Phu Hoang moderates a conversation with symposium attendees in the Knowlton Hall center space.
Phu Hoang moderates the closing conversation for the Edible Futures symposium.