Architecture & Urban Conditions
“We fantasize about food in galleries, museums and in movie theatres. We also indulge ourselves by flicking through mouth-watering recipes in bookshops and public libraries, or on the internet in the comfort of our homes. Food habits and practices represent a central element of civilisation and the culture of cities, intellectual greed or sensual nourishment, the relationship between life and art, and media share much common ground in food. Bizarre, unethical or sustainable, food ultimately promotes dilution of cultural boundaries, and restores the primal link between urban inhabitants and their sustenance.”
C.J. Lim, “Food City”
Over the centuries, food has had a significant impact on the built environment. The birth and maturation of cities are directly linked to the development of systems of food production such that these systems would shape the governance, religion, education, transport, health and foreign affairs of urban existence. Food is just as significant in its relationship to the city now as it was then, even though the economies of post-industrial societies have relegated it to the periphery, both materially and ideologically.
Food is an intrinsic and defining aspect of a city’s identity. Its smells, textures and tastes manifest a city’s cultural heritage, define its social habits and bring vitality and conviviality to its streets. Food historian Howard Marshall notes, “Like dialect and architecture, food traditions are a main component in the intricate and impulsive system that joins culture and geography into regional character.” Cuisine, like architecture, is a function of the genius loci, the spirit of the place. The French term terroir (literally the taste of the earth) that typifies so many wines and foodstuffs is the most immediate manifestation of this gastronomic specificity. The rituals of food production, dining, the design of meals and the processes of cookery have the potential to form and inform a distinctly expressive architecture that is able to articulate the spatial and performative relationship between food and architecture.
The relationship between food, architecture and the city is both complex and substantive. Much of the built environment is designed around food - producing, storing, transporting, selling, serving and eating it. The relationship between food and the city is characterised by a dense network of connections and interactions at both the private and public realms. Food crosses, changes and influences space at the scale of the body, the dwelling, the street, the city, the region and the nation. These relationships operate as educational, economic, social and nutritional mechanisms that affect, in both positive and negative ways, the health of individuals, communities and cities. Food is therefore a matter of design.
Michelle De Jong
Seng Poh Liong