January 13, 2010 by Robin Plaskoff Horton
Terreform One, a non-profit design group that promotes green design in cities, is launching the One Prize Award–Mowing to Growing: Rethinking the American Lawn: an international design competition for creating productive green space in cities.
Through their creative projects and outreach efforts, the organizers hope to illuminate the environmental possibilities of New York City and inspire solutions in areas like it around the world. Terreform One (Open Network Ecology) is a unique laboratory for scientists, artists, architects, students, and individuals of all backgrounds exploring and advancing the larger framework of green design. The group develops innovative solutions and technologies for local sustainability in energy, transportation, infrastructure, buildings, waste treatment, food, water, and media spaces.
Fab Tree Hab, Photo courtesy of Terreform One
They are launching this competition in the context of larger issues concerning the environment, global food production and the imperative to generate a sense of community in our urban and suburban neighborhoods. As the competition brief state, From Mowing to Growing is not meant to transform each lawn into a garden, but to open us up to the possibilities of self-sustenance, organic growth, and perpetual change.
Mattscape, Photo courtesy of Terreform One
Proposals, due April 30, 2010, can be for a real or speculative project, for one or more real sites, and located either in the U.S. or applicable to U.S. sites. The competition, open to architects, urban designers, planners, engineers, scientists, artists, students and individuals of all backgrounds, seeks to answer the following questions:
• How can we break the American love affair with the suburban lawn?
• Can green houses be incorporated in skyscrapers?
• What are the urban design strategies for food production in cities?
• Can food grow on rooftops, parking lots, building facades?
• What is required to remove foreclosure signs on lawns and convert them to gardens?
The competition, which offers a $10,000 cash award for professionals and $1000 to students, urges entrants to explore how they would design future-proof spaces and systems to explore the larger framework of suburban and urban agriculture and its effects on architecture and urban design.
Research suggests that North Americans devote 40,000 square miles to lawns, more that we use for wheat, corn, or tobacco. Americans also spend $750 million dollars a year on grass seed alone while only 2% of America’s food is locally grown. 12% of the cost of food consumed at home is a result of transportation costs. In July 2005, Los Angeles-based architect Fritz Haeg launched the campaign known as “Edible Estates.” Haeg says he was drawn to the lawn–that “iconic American space”–because it cut across social, political and economic boundaries. “The lawn really struck me as one of the few places that we all share,” he says. “It represents what we’re all supposedly working so hard for – the American dream.” The concept of tilling one’s front yard is not a new one. In 1942, as the U.S. emerged from the Great Depression and mobilized for World War II, Agriculture Secretary Claude R. Wickard encouraged Americans to plant “Victory Gardens” to boost civic morale and relieve the war’s pressure on food supplies. The slogan became “Have Your Garden, and Eat It Too.” Soon gardens began popping up everywhere, and not just American lawns–plots sprouted up at the Chicago County Jail, a downtown parking lot in New Orleans, and a zoo in Portland, Oregon. In 1943, Americans planted 20.5 million Victory Gardens, and the harvest accounted for nearly one-third of all the vegetables consumed in the country that year. According to the National Gardener’s Association, twenty-five million U.S. households planted vegetable and fruit gardens in 2008. First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack have planted organic vegetable gardens this year. Roof gardens are sprouting nationwide, community gardens have waiting lists, and seed houses and canning suppliers are over sold.