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Agritecture: The Solution to Sustainable Cities

  • By Mugure Njendu
  • August 19, 2020
  • 0 Comment

Agritecture is a name for the intersection of architecture and agriculture which is being seen most prominently in the emerging urban farming movement. According to Henry Gordon Smith; one of the early advocates of agritecture, he described it as the art, science and business of integrating agriculture into cities.  Fundamentally, agritecture seeks to define home as both shelter and food. The importance of reducing the distance from farm to plate has never been more important, here and now. The here being a rapidly urbanizing African city and the now being 2020, a year critical for climate action.

Architecture can no longer stand in place, while climate changes. Architecture and urban planning can serve as a mitigator or hindrance to climate action. It is with this regard, that agritecture can start to respond. By integrating within architectural designs, urban farming solutions and cities could address environmental, social and economic challenges thus developing resilient food systems in the face of climate change. 

In 2019, 27.51% of Kenya’s total population lived in urban areas and cities, up by more than double from 1970 when the rate was 10.3%. The cost of food exponentially increases based on the distance of farms to the city. With a large part of the urban population, more than 70%, earning less than Kshs 50,000 a month, it is time to look at promoting and implementing urban farming. Agritecture is the solution to this.

It is estimated that 80% of Kenyans who own land or are selling land purpose the land for building of commercial property and not farming. Commercialization of land is inevitable in Kenya and all over the world. We therefore need to be more intentional in integration of buildings and agriculture at a macro and micro scale. As Architects, we have a role in delivery of the sustainability development goals, and agritecture could respond to SDGS particularly SDG 11 and 13, on sustainable cities and climate action. From an urban planning perspective, perhaps development of land can be functional, as well as address recycling, saving and reproducing.

So how does Agritecture move from a concept in the Kenyan context? It needs to start from education. The premise and teaching that architecture can give back more than it takes. A culture that understands integrating agriculture with the built environment yields a multitude of benefits for cities and their residents.

Architects and planners are not the only ones who need to rethink how they practice to embrace agritecture. Agritecture requires the integration of various disciplines that include those of agriculture, engineering and technology so that the designs are both practical and well designed. All stakeholders in the industry can be part of this important transition.

Strides are being made towards sustainable cities.  A population is critical in the success of any ecosystem including sustainable cities. Many governments and individuals are driving the agenda that if we do not consider the social, economic, environmental impact that our habitats are having currently, we risk compromising the ability of future generations experience. Solutions to sustainable cities are many and can begin from an individual’s single home to a whole state.  Do you own a plant? If not, get one. Do you have shelter?  If your shelter is single functional, then get challenged to make it multifunctional; Let your shelter give more that it takes. 

Every need that your shelter gets, it should reproduce. Water in, should go full cycle including growing food, food in – renewable energy/manure, sunlight into power, power into heating/lighting/running other sustainable innovations.  The point is, a population should not wait for policies or laws to be put in place so as to act; Sustainable cities start with a shelter at a time.

Architecture is driven by the needs of a population.  If they embrace sustainability, then agritecture will have a place in designing the face of our urban and semi urban spaces and will help to ease the strain on our food supply in ever-expanding urban centers.

By Mugure Njendu, Architect, Urban Planner and STEM Advocate.

President of the Architectural Association of Kenya