High on the Hog


Living High on the Hog

Upwardly Mobile Pigs May Get a Sty in the Sky

by Nina Rappaport

How can you produce disease-free pigs in adequate numbers in a country the size of the Netherlands, which produces 16.5 million tons of pork a year? MVRDV, an eight-year-old, Rotterdam-based architectural firm, thinks it has the answer: Pig City, 40 pig farms stacked one on top of the other in high-rise structures. It is presenting its idea in the form of an exhibition, "KM3/Pig City," on view at the Stroom Center for the Visual Arts.

High Rise Pigs: A "Sty in the Sky"

The firm's name is an acronym formed from the initials of its principals: Winy Maas (M), Jacob van Rijs (VR) and Nathalie de Vries (DV). With a staff of 30, they design not only the usual houses, apartments and office buildings but visionary schemes in the mould of earlier architects' utopias - Frank Lloyd Wright's 1958 Broadacre City or Le Corbusier's 1935 Ville Radieuse. Their vision stems from an innate Dutch desire to accumulate more usable land for their small country. So just as the Dutch have reclaimed land from the sea for agricultural development horizontally, now they are finding a way to build vertically.

The goal here is not to prettify the landscape but to serve economic, demographic and environmental needs.

The problem that Pig City addresses is the clash between urbanisation and farming. Not only is the Netherlands becoming denser than planners originally calculated, with urban development spreading into the country's "Green Heart," but the pig crisis is rapaciously invading the agricultural landscape. MVRDV calculated that to raise pigs organically and without diseases, each pig would need 1,726 square metres of land - 1,062 square metres more than is allotted now. Unfortunately, that would leave only 774 square metres per person, or roughly 25% of the country. Since denying people either land or meat was out of the question, MVRDV asked how pig production could continue in a limited space. The only answer was "up."

As depicted in the video in the exhibition, Pig City is a comprehensive solution to this problem. It envisions no fewer than 40 farms stacked in 87-by-87-metre towers rising more than 500 metres high. Instead of jostling about in a truck over long distances to market and slaughter, the pigs are transported via elevators to a slaughterhouse on the ground floor, preventing disease from spreading. Pigs would be organically fed with grain grown on the property around the towers, on organic garbage and high-protein Tilapia fish - which in turn feed on the pigs' manure, achieving a closed feeding system between pigs and fish. In Pig City, rainwater would be collected in basins through a reed field around the tower, and hay would be grown in a 7.5 metre diameter around the tower and then hung in rolls, like toilet paper, from the 10-metre-high ceilings to supply the pigs' bedding.For additional pig pleasure, apple trees would be planted in the towers. Air would be filtered through water stored in rooftop tanks. The pigs' manure would produce methane gas, which, after being stored for the required year in a rooftop storage dome, would supply electricity to both the tower and to 2,250 housing units nearby. And then, you might ask, would the pigs have enough room to waddle around? MVRDV has thought of that, too. The towers would provide 640-square-metre balconies cantilevered from the building exterior, planted with oak trees complete with the prerequisite' truffles at their base. MVRDV calculated that 76 towers would be needed to satisfy the current demand for pig products - 32 for the urban areas in the Netherlands and 44 clustered near harbours for export.

Pig City may not be as far-fetched as it seems at first glance. Vertical factories are being built for manufacturing around the world, and agriculturists are intrigued. MVRDV has commissions for vertical hydroponic greenhouses mixed with housing and offices in Bovenkerkerpolder and a vertical fish farm in Tokyo. It could be the beginning of a new era. As land-use specialist Henk van Oosten of the agricultural think-tank Innovation Network says, "A collaboration could link together the agricultural world with city builders."

Ms Rappaport is an architectural critic based in New York. She is working on a book on factory design.

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