Foodhall project: look at architectural history, think beyond a foodbank model (2016 republish MacEwan article)
Austerity England; waste, food poverty, social isolation, and exclusion forms a microcosm of the socio-political context. Regressive welfare cuts, limited budgets for public architecture, competitive fee scales and PFI means that most architects face an unswerving economic condition towards one mode of practice. No matter how socialist, designers can’t afford to work for the public good. Instead, most move towards the capital and design for private clients. This has led to a decline in inventive design aimed at those who need it most. Dickensian-style foodbanks emerge as one of the most degrading examples of architectural design in modern history. The inhumane system echoes feeding time at the zoo. Lastly, people must take their parcels home and eat them alone. The emotional journey undertaken within them generates social conditioning that affects and stigmatizes people. With no system in place for architects to make better spaces for those suffering tough times the present world structure resonates through our architecture and the architecture then resonates back, reinforcing this word structure for the future.
The Foodhall project emerged from research to find a solution, examining diverse precedents from a vernacular civilization whose social values were different to todays. One typology is most common throughout human history, the open, public space for free food-sharing. Any archaeologist will confirm that the communal fire, where people would share food and information freely is the sign of civilization, many early villages and settlements were built around this place of sharing and arguably they contributed to the development of humans as intellectual animals. Precedent such as the Indian Prasad hall develops this in an urban setting. A local Sheffield precedent, Edward Carpenter’s commonwealth café in the early 1900s provided tea to slum dwellers and was a catalyst for Sheffield socialism.
This typology has disappeared from our cityscape only to be replaced on one side of the spectrum by either commercial shops and on the other, food banks. However, it is possible to solve a whole host of social problems and turn them into something positive. The Foodhall is public. It is designed to accommodate the broadest stretch of society.
Foodhall instigates cross-societal engagement through food and reciprocal activities of arts and crafts to co-develop the space, referencing vernacular societies like the Dogon. We utilize surplus and repurpose it for social good. This can be construction waste which we redesign into furniture and interior elements, food which is intercepted then cooked providing healthy meals for everyone. By reducing overheads through waste, we create something truly public and simultaneously harness the strongest sense of place as the materiality is all locally collected.
The design of the space constantly evolves to better suit the needs of the team and its users. We believe in constant feedback and user engagement which encourages us to develop products and spaces that are flexible, modular, and interesting. We have a distilled set of architectural elements which allow full versatility.
The environmental benefits are primarily through reducing food and material waste daily. We save around 50kg of food per week and feed around 200 people. As 50% of the world’s carbon emissions are from building waste, by redesigning an old morgue we are lowering embedded emissions.
The social benefits of the project are the provision of a safe space for a variety of people to meet and access hot food. We work with a multitude of community and social groups collaboratively and organically, providing them with space to run activities and workshops in a bespoke setting facilitated by our flexible architecture. We run teaching and learning exercises and provide free lectures and talks. The economic benefits of the project stem from using disused spaces and providing regeneration to the local area and providing a facility for the equal distribution of surplus, focussing more on concrete use value rather than an abstract economic asset value which sometimes manifests in wastage.