SOM Prize and Travel Fellowship Awards in Architecture, Design & Urban Design

SOM Foundation Research Prize 2019 Topic:
Shrinking our Agricultural Footprint

The SOM Foundation is pleased to announce the winners of the 2019 SOM Foundation Research Prize. Two teams—one led by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and one led by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) School of Architecture—will each receive a grant of $40,000 to conduct original research. The SOM Foundation Research Prize was created in 2018 to cultivate new ideas and meaningful research with the goal of addressing critical issues of our time. This year’s topic, “Shrinking our Agricultural Footprint,” seeks to define new spatial conditions that reduce our agricultural footprint and advance approaches to sustainability and resiliency in the short- and long-term future.

The first winning team, whose abstract is titled “The Right to The Sewage,” is led by a team from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. The team includes Montserrat Bonvehi Rosich (architect and Lecturer in the Landscape Architecture Department); Seth Denizen (landscape architect, 2019–20 Daniel Urban Kiley Fellow, and Lecturer in the Landscape Architecture Department); and David Moreno Mateos (restoration ecologist and Assistant Professor in the Landscape Architecture Department). The goal of their research project is to evaluate the successes and failures of the Mezquital Valley as the world’s largest experiment in fertilizing agriculture with human wastewater. Almost 200,000 acres of land in the fertile Mezquital Valley are irrigated with the untreated sewage of Mexico City. The project will ask what hydraulic, soil, ecosystem, social, and policy conditions can increase chances for success and what its prospects for socio-ecological sustainability are.

The second winning team is led by Clare Lyster, (architect, writer, and Associate Professor at the at the UIC School of Architecture). Her abstract, titled “Hot Farms: How Emails Grow Tomatoes,” proposes the research, design, and development of high-density food production in the form of automated greenhouse agriculture on the periphery of Dublin that piggybacks on the data storage economy in the region. The project aims to utilize the vast amount of heat currently expelled into the atmosphere for the production of food, to not only solve the exhaust problem, but also to offer a more sustainable approach to agriculture in the country. The proposal understands “industrial symbiosis” as an environmental strategy by integrating data and food production systems, and more significantly, as a design tool to envision the future planning of a regional territory.

A jury chaired by SOM Foundation Executive Director Iker Gil and composed of leading professionals and SOM Foundation Directors selected the winning teams. This year’s jury included Marina Otero Verzier (Director of Research at Het Nieuwe Instituut, Rotterdam), Nicola Twilley (author and cohost of Gastropod podcast), Charles Waldheim (architect, urbanist, and John E. Irving Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design), Doug Voigt (SOM Foundation Director and SOM Urban Design and Planning Partner), and Scott Duncan (SOM Foundation Co-Chair and SOM Design Partner). Charles Waldheim recused himself from reviewing any of the proposals submitted by Harvard University.

Juror Marina Otero Verzier said the following of the proposals:

‘The Right to The Sewage’ proposes an intersectional approach that serves to unveil how local struggles and social inequalities articulate global phenomena around food. The project is a truly collective endeavor that involves many different actors and stakeholders, and their relations. It shows a deep critical and analytical sensibility that aims to manifest in social action. Lyster’s proposal focuses on a too-often overlooked phenomena: on the one hand, the energy consumption associated with data as a result of contemporary forms of communication; on the other, the proliferation of seemly unassuming architectures of automated greenhouses and data centers. The project brings these issues together and aims to contribute to the conversation around the growing demands on data and food with architectural prototypes.

Prize recipients are expected to collaborate with faculty and leaders from various disciplines to pursue their research topics. They will be required to thoroughly document their findings and develop suggestions for application to professional practice. SOM Foundation’s Advisory Board is also anticipated to have interim interactions for the purpose of providing feedback and focus to maintain a high level of excellence throughout each team’s research efforts.