Urban Metabolisms

The following is a collection of posts from Jack Cochran and Doug Dickerson’s design research at the University of Virginia, entitled Urban Metabolisms: Global Resource Flows and Management through the Lens of Food.  We have been working with Prof. Bill Sherman, our adviser, and Prof. Craig Barton, our teacher for the design research seminar.  Posts below extend from the most recent, which includes our final presentation and proposal for next semester, to the earliest research.


December 15, 2011

Our final report and summary of what follows below can be found here.


December 2, 2011

At our final presentation, we presented the following boards, which demonstrated the shift from our original focus on the paths and distances by which food arrives in cities to a project that focused more directly on the architecture associated with the food system.  As demonstrated below, the energy used in transportation is negligible compared to other components of the food system, and we began to make conjectures about how the components of the food system that used the greatest amount of energy might be modified.  With processing and household kitchens far more energy-intensive than transportation, we proposed what it might mean to eliminate personal kitchens from use and, following a great recommendation from Prof. Sherman, the elimination of the dry goods section in supermarkets.  In addition to providing diagrams of how these systems and buildings might be modified, we also analyzed the productivity and other advantages and disadvantages of food production systems, providing an idea of what might be included in our projects next semester – both in terms of food growth as well as its processing and distribution to citizens.


November 17, 2011

As we study further into the amount of energy used in aspects of the food system aside from transportation, it becomes apparent that a great amount of energy is needed to run the facilities in which food is processed, stored, and sold.  Based on the current food map, we have begun sizing the facilities involved based on the square footage footprint. As you can see below, these facilities take up a significant amount of space (such as Kroger’s storage facility, Atlas Logistics) – in excess of 600,000 square feet.

Square Footage (of Building Footprint):

Whole Foods:

– Retail Store (Charlottesville, VA): 44,000 SF

– Distribution (Rockville, MD): 77,000 SF

– Distribution (Landover, MD): 32,000 SF

– Headquarters (Austin, TX): 90,000 SF

– Cargo Plane (Delivery): 700 SF

– Delivery Truck (with trailer): 500 SF


– Retail Store (Charlottesville, VA):  48,000 SF

– Atlas Logistics (Roanoke, VA): 660,000 SF

– Superior Seafood (Grand Rapids, MI): 58,000 SF

– Headquarters (Cincinnati, OH): 38,000 SF

– Delivery Truck (with trailer): 500 SF

Andersons Carriage House:

– Retail Store (Charlottesville, VA): 9,000 SF

– Arganica Farm Club (Ruckersville, VA): 13,000 SF

– Standard Produce: 9,000 SF

– Delivery Truck: 300 SF

Farmers Market (Charlottesville, VA):

– Retail Tent (Each): 100 SF

– Market Area (All Vendors): 48,000 SF

– Blackwood Farm (Ponds): 180,000 SF

– Delivery Truck: 125 SF

The Local:

– Retail Store (Charlottesville, VA): 1,500 SF

– Rag Mountain Trout (Pond): 7,500 SF


– Retail Store (Preston Ave): 4,000 SF


November 11, 2011

In preparation for the second semester of this research, we began to look more specifically at spatial issues in New York and Charlottesville, as well as begin to identify specific sites we might use for our future projects.  One aspect of research that we did on New York was to look at the evolution of agricultural land and how the city began to overtake farms as the city expanded.  Included below is a map of farms in 1639 in relation to the size of New York at that time, located around a fort at the tip of what is now Manhattan.  Agricultural land was already decentralized in this early era, and included areas that were specifically devoted to slaves on the eastern side.  Important to note is that New Amsterdam had to rely on food produced from locations other than its own region near its inception due to the high proportion of non-farming workers that populated and visited the area, such as sailors and merchants.  The colony almost failed, as well, under the mismanagement of the Dutch West India Company, prompting reform.


October 30, 2011

At the risk of partially reorienting the focus of our project again, we came across a very important bit of information that renders part of our previous research irrelevant.  According to a study by the USDA that calculated all of the energy that goes into various parts of the food processing system, energy in transportation is negligible compared to household kitchens, food processing plants, farms, and food service/sales areas.  Instead of being focused on the distance that food travels, we realized that we should be focusing on other important aspects of the food system, such as improving the way in which processing facilities work and how food is sold in supermarkets.  To begin to show some of the information garnered from the report, we developed a graph demonstrating the energy inputs in select foods, for which transportation-related energy is minimal.  This will merit much more study in the coming weeks as we flesh out in greater detail what energy is used specifically for at each stage, as well as the original sources of the energy.


October 19, 2011

In order to better understand the built environment associated with food production, we began researching grocery retailers (both historically and contemporary). Plans of contemporary retailers suggest a path around the exterior of the store, which contain dairy, meat, and produce similar to historic markets with processed goods located in the center of the store. With this in mind, we visited local grocery stores to compare layout and design intentions along this “market walk”.  Within five minutes of entering the Whole Foods Market in Charlottesville (armed with digital camera), we were politely asked to not take pictures within the store. However, the manager was able to provide us with a diagrammatic plan of the store layout (seen below), which coincides with previous research and typical grocery store layouts.


October 12, 2011

We just had our mid-review, the boards for which are included below.  We were able to present our initial research on the distance that food has traveled to Charlottesville and New York, as well as a timeline that includes information about historic food production and the advantages of certain production methods over another.

The main commentary we received regarded our role as architects in this research.  Our intention in doing this research was to be sure that we understood the existing food system before we made any recommendations or designs, but we were reminded that our main contributions to the discussion on food systems will likely still be spatial and that we should focus a portion of our research on an investigation of supermarkets, processing facilities, and other architectures in addition to broader systems issues.


October 5, 2011

We have started to trace food to Charlottesville and New York.  Understanding how food arrives in Charlottesville involves long phone conversations and an abundance of grocery store visits. Beginning with rainbow trout as the entrée, we began mapping the route from producer to consumer from a variety of retailers – including Harris Teeter, Kroger, Anderson’s Carriage House, Seafood at West Main, and the Farmers Market (CVille CSF). The full map can be seen below, but we would like to emphasize the fact that the grocery store chains (Harris Teeter and Kroger) receive their trout from over 2,000 miles away, with a carbon output of nearly 250 times that of local trout from the Farmers’ Market.


September 27, 2011

Because of our two major missteps already in this process, we have reevaluated our approach for the remainder of the semester.  Instead of focusing our attention on general crops and tracing them to all of the foods and purchase locations in Charlottesville and New York, we will be going from the opposite direction.  We have decided to focus on two meals, each with five specific food products, and trace them back to their sources from different locations.  As demonstrated in the images below, we have selected to look at New York for breakfast and Charlottesville for dinner, tracing food from various grocery stores, restaurants, and boutique shops.  In order to make a more direct comparison between New York and Charlottesville, we are focusing on a particular region of New York that has similarities to Charlottesville, Union Square.  With a general population of about 50,000 people and with a major university nearby, Union Square appears to be an appropriate compliment, especially with a major farmers’ market located at its center.  With these basic meals laid out in comparable areas, we will determine where each comes from and what is needed for the creation of this one meal.  We will then extrapolate this information and determine what is needed for a population of 50,000 and potentially scale our later designs accordingly.


September 21, 2011

Backing away for a couple of weeks from research on individual foods, we attempted to represent the amount of food traveling to New York from other parts of the United States.  The Federal Highway Administration (USDOT) provides information on all of the types of food that is transported to and from different regions of the United States through the Freight Analysis Framework.  We tried putting together a Sankey diagram that demonstrated the flow of food from different regions to New York based on this information using Grasshopper and then reverting to a Sankey-specific software.  Neither produced effective graphics, but what they did demonstrate was the inability of the information to be able to represent food going to New York.  As became evident, the data includes all miles traveled by food, double- and triple-counting food within a state (especially New York) as it moves around to various resellers and processing plants.  As a result, the data “revealed” that we already have a very local food system, when in reality this is not the case; instead, it does indicate how many extra miles are traveled for food around the location of purchase.

The images below demonstrate just how disproportionate the amount of miles traveled in New York are to the miles traveled bring food to New York from the rest of the country.  The first image has food miles from several states without the northeast region included.

The second has all of the prior information, but with Pennsylvania included.  The others become proportionally much smaller.

And finally, with New York included.  The rest is negligible, and demonstrates that a different information source is needed to pursue this larger food-system graphic.


September 8, 2011

In our first weeks of research, we have already encountered a problem regarding our approach for the semester.  Initially, we hoped to be able to trace five foods each from farms to plate, taking a crop and following it through its processing to the forms in which it is eaten in Charlottesville and New York.  In our research on wheat by itself, we have encountered far more products that includes wheat than we had originally realized, including root beer, porridge, and fried chicken.  The image below shows only a sample of what we found.

As a result, we will have to determine a different way to approach tracing food.  For the time being, we found a few very helpful sources that outlined historic food use and consumption for the primary settlers in New York, as well as information in which these traditions were carried across the Atlantic and were altered with the introduction of Native American dishes and customs.


August 28, 2011

Included below is a condensed version of our longer research proposal from our previous post.


August 25, 2011

Included below is our proposal for the semester, including our topic for research, potential schedule, and working bibliography.  For a link to the PDF, click on any of the individual pages.


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