Productive Urban Landscapes

Research and practice around the CPUL design concept


History of the CPUL concept

*** the following text was first published in 2011 on the previous version of this blog ***

The term ‘Continuous Productive Urban Landscape (CPUL)’ defines a concept for the coherent integration of urban agriculture into urban design and planning. The case is made for considering urban agriculture as an essential element of sustainable green infrastructure.
The term ‘CPUL City’ describes the vision for a resilient urban entity – containing CPULs – that enables sustainable urban food systems for the benefit and pleasure of its citizens and of its environment, economy, culture and society as a whole.

In 1998, André Viljoen and Katrin Bohn first became interested in the potential urban agriculture had to improve urban sustainability and to create environmentally productive open urban space. We observed that urban design provided an area where clear parallels existed in thinking emerging from environmental (sustainability led) research and architectural thinking. The early environmental mappings of Wackernagel and Rees as well as design-led proposals for infrastructural urbanism by architect Stan Allen may serve as examples of work that reinforced our interest in urban agriculture.

We started an ongoing, broad research project addressing two basic questions: can a case be made for the planful integration of urban agriculture into cities and: what would a city that contained extensive food production be like? These questions set in train two strands of research: one, assessing quantifiable environmental, economic and social arguments related to the impact of urban agriculture and related food system activities and another, looking at the qualitative impacts they would have on a city and especially on its spatial layout. The topic clearly demanded a dialogue that crossed the disciplines related to uban design and environmental sustainability.

Having identified significant urban agriculture and sustainability researchers and practitioners in the UK, Katrin Bohn and André Viljoen set up the Urban Nature conference in July 2001. The conference explored urban agriculture and landscape strategies for sustainable city design and was the first conference on this topic to be run in the UK, bringing together leading researchers in the field.

In parallel to this, we undertook design studies for actual sites in the UK developing a repertory of design solutions for the integration of urban agriculture into architectural and urban design propositions. This initial research indicated that a strong environmental and design case could be made for considering urban agriculture as an essential element of a sustainable green urban infrastructure.

With the aim of consolidating and disseminating research findings, we produced the book Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes (CPULs): Designing urban agriculture for sustainable cities. André edited the volume which has an overarching text by both of us supported by chapters written by specialists, underpinning arguments made within the overarching text.

The publication of CPULs had a considerable impact in the field and led to dissemination via exhibitions and conference presentations. Resulting exhibitions which also developed new work include an exhibition at the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Maastricht and a Triangle Arts Trust / Gasworks residency and exhibition in Havana. The CPULs book was part of Tate Modern’s Global Cities installation in London. Conference presentations around the time include a keynote address at the Soil Association’s 60th anniversary conference.

The most significant aspect of CPULs within the academic field are the connections made between urban agriculture, urban/architectural design and sustainability. At the time of publication, 2005, there where two parallel but divorced stands of research, one exploring the impacts of urban agriculture within the social realm (f.e. in community regeneration and development studies) and another exploring landscape infrastructure as a driver for architectural and urban design. The CPUL concept made explicit connections between both seeing the opportunities of cross-working between disciplines for achieving an integrated approach to urban sustainability.

Throughout the process of developing the CPUL project, we have wanted to move beyond the typical architectural manifesto which tends to declare a position, often with limited independent supporting evidence. To that end, research undertaken with colleagues in Cuba, and UK specialists has been essential to developing a rigorous argument. At the time of writing CPULs, much evidence for quantifying the environmental impact of remote food production had to rely on research undertaken in the 1970ies. However, since its publication, further independent research has reinforced many of the arguments made in CPULs.

Early on, the CPUL project received funding from the RIBA’s Modern Architecture and Town Planning Trust, The British Council, the University of Brighton’s Faculty of Arts & Architecture and its International Office.


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