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London becomes a patchwork of food-producing landscapes

Words:
Isabelle Priest

Urban scale winners Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker's Greater London Agriculture proposal rethinks urban life to mitigate against future pandemics

Greater London Agriculture masterplan, designed by Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker, joint winner of RIBA Rethink 2025.
Greater London Agriculture masterplan, designed by Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker, joint winner of RIBA Rethink 2025.

Like all zoonotic diseases, Covid-19 is not something architects can solve with simple interventions. Its emergence is bound up with innumerable social, economic and environmental factors that neither bubble suits nor socially distanced paths will improve.

A Greater London Agriculture proposes to transform the capital’s metropolitan area into an ecologically diverse, agricultural landscape, addressing the premise that industrialised food production has made us vulnerable to diseases spread from animals. 

This project sets out to divert from intensive systems and change how cities are fed with measures covering land use, education and funding to enable global biodiversity to flourish. Thoroughly researched, GLA stood out for its intention to be a small part in a shift to a diversified agroecological system. It also comprehensively engaged with rethinking life to mitigate against future pandemics while dealing with current dilemmas.

The three different networks Greater London Agriculture creates.
The three different networks Greater London Agriculture creates.

‘There’s an element of prevention,’ says judge Joanna Averley. ‘If we are closer to food production, we might better understand how other pandemics might start and happen. The entrant linked it all up.’

Chosen as the city scale winner, A Greater London Agriculture would establish a critical mass of agroecology in London by embedding growing spaces in and around the city and funding education that will allow trailblazing farmers to learn the necessary skills and then pass on their knowledge. 

Over time this patchwork would become connected by bio­diverse corridors, with wildflowers for pollinators and edible plants for foraging. Along the Thames, diverse activities would become part of this edible landscape, from the wetlands of Rainham Marshes for cattle grazing to experimental seaweed farms floating in the estuary. Circular economy entrepreneurs would work to improve logistics, matching food volume to demand and creating valuable, innovative bioeconomy products that offer interesting seasonal food. Organic byproducts would be returned to the soil and the cycle continued.

 

‘Out of this pandemic,’ says Mecanoo’s Francine Houben, ‘we have to do little and big things. This is big, bringing back the relationship between cities and agriculture. It works at different levels; some things you do yourself, government takes responsibility for others. It creates public space and bike/pedestrian networks, which is good.’

The proposal respects the natural world with more local, resilient, seasonal food growing, both professional and casual. We can eat delicious food, and the knock-on effects, from storm management to preventive healthcare, will be profound. Almost incidentally, the system would reduce reliance on industrialised agriculture, allow biodiversity and ecosystems to recover, and the threat of another pandemic to diminish.

How the virtuous cycle of GLA works and a sketch of how the city might be experienced.
How the virtuous cycle of GLA works and a sketch of how the city might be experienced. Credit: Tim Rodber and Dominic Walker

As IF_DO’s Sarah Castle explains: ‘There is analysis and proposal. It identifies hubs that already exist and stitches them with new ones.’ Fellow judge Asif Khan adds: ‘It shows clear hierarchical design thinking from individual to city. It’s an ideal combination of top down and bottom up. The way they have drawn it is really successful too.’ 

Rodber and Walker are already making it real. To find out more, visit www.greaterlondonagriculture.com


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