Greater London Agriculture
Awarded First Place RIBA Rethink 2025 Competition
Greater London Agriculture is an ongoing research project rethinking the food system. We want to create fresh ways of eating and growing in cities, improving health, biodiversity and well-being.
We would love to hear from potential collaborators to further this vision, so if you are an academic, professional, or community champion, please get in touch.
COVID-19, like all zoonotic diseases, is not something that architects can ‘solve’ with simplistic reactive measures. Neither bubble suits, virtually-realised holidays, nor socially-distanced highways will affect meaningful change.
The complexities of zoonotic emergence are enmeshed within innumerable social, economic, and environmental factors. Since humanity first domesticated livestock and formed large settlements, ‘we have become a dense globally connected network of human beings vulnerable to the rapid spread of new zoonoses’.
More recently, industrial agriculture and the intensive production of livestock has led towards habitat degradation, genetically uniform species, ecosystem destruction and climate change, which have ‘removed the firebreaks of biodiversity’, making us increasingly at risk of emerging infectious diseases and - inevitably - pandemics.
The heart of this issue is, arguably, agriculture. So what can we do about this? To quote the WWF:
‘To reduce the likelihood of future pandemics, we need to redesign our food system...as we tackle the impacts of COVID-19...we must invest in sustainable solutions that change the way we consume and produce food, resulting in a more resilient food system for healthy people and planet’
A ‘Greater London Agriculture’ (GLA) proposes one small element in a much-needed ‘paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems’. Combining circular principles and agroecology, we have the potential to divest ourselves from an industrialised food system which lays the groundwork for climate change and pandemics, towards a network that has the potential to ‘reconcile social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability, by combining different plants and animals, using natural synergies - not synthetic chemicals - to regenerate soils, fertilise crops, and fight pests’.
GLA will build a critical mass of agroecology by embedding a series of growing spaces around the city and its peri-urban fringe. Funding for agroecological education will allow a number of trailblazing farmers to pick up the skills necessary to flourish, who in turn can pass on their knowledge. This patchwork of productive landscapes will, slowly but surely, become connected by bio-diverse corridors, with wildflowers for pollinators and wild herbs and edible plants for foraging. Along the Thames, a diverse range of landscapes becomes part of this edible city landscape, from the wetlands of Rainham Marshes, to experimental seaweed farms floating in the estuary.
Circular economy entrepreneurs will work within this enlivened food system to improve logistics, closely matching food volume to demand, creating valuable bioeconomy products, and innovating food products that embrace interesting, highly seasonal food. The organic by-products of these processes will return to the soil and the virtuous cycle will continue.
A Greater London Agriculture will return the food system to one which respects and values the natural world. With more localised, resilient, seasonal food growing - both professionalised and casual - we can eat more delicious food, and the knock-on effects - from storm management to preventative healthcare - will be profound. Almost incidentally, this new system will reduce our reliance on a global industrialised agriculture, allowing ecosystems to recover, biodiversity to flourish, and the threat of another pandemic to diminish.