London 2026: recipes for building a food capital
A showcase of creative visions, architectural schemes and live projects from around the world that explore the sustainable integration of food into the urban mix.

Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has a right to the basics: food and shelter.  Whilst the UK’s current housing crisis has pushed the shelter issue up the agenda, food is following close behind: how are we going to feed our cities’ exponentially growing populace?

Roca’s spring exhibition is set in London in 2026, when the capital’s population will have passed the 10 million mark.  The show imagines how ‘agritecture’ – buildings that can grow food – will have impacted our cityscape, with food being produced at a variety of scales, from domestic hydroponics units to industrialised, automated underground farming, all of which are being trialled in cities around the world now. 

The exhibition is being curated by circular economy innovation consultancy Department22 who believe that cities need to be doing all they can to play their part in the evolution of a new food system to feed a burgeoning world population.  In this exhibition, the notion of the circular economy (that challenges our current Make, Use, Dispose system), is expanded to look at how we might grow, distribute and re-purpose our food, helping safeguard the long-term survival of humanity while protecting and enhancing the environment and soils upon which our food production depends.

Department22’s multi-sensory, interactive London 2026 exhibition looks at how urban societies can become more self-sufficient by growing their own food, creating systems that use urban waste (wastewater, household waste and organic refuse) urban space (rooftops, underground tunnels, walls, allotments) and new technologies (LED lighting, hydroponics, automation) to grow a substantial proportion of the fresh food that cities need.  In circular fashion, the concept is that any waste from food production and preparation will either be made available to buy at a lower cost, donated to those in need, or ploughed back into the growing system as fertiliser.

Visitors to London 2026 will enter what appears to be an architectural studio, with ideas for turning London into an agricultural city of the future displayed on architects’ desks, dramatically lit with anglepoise lamps.  The exhibition will feature 25 architectural schemes and products from around the world, including food-tech business Plantagon’s colossal World Food Building, a 60m high ‘plantscraper’ due to complete in Sweden in 2020.  Plantagon wants to maximise food production on the smallest footprint possible, reducing transportation, land, energy and water to the bare minimum, using waste products to grow the food but leaving no waste behind. 

Closer to home, Growing Underground is already supplying fresh salad leaves to the likes of Ocado and M&S, using 70% less water than traditional open-field farming with sophisticated hydroponics and LED technology 33 metres below the busy streets of Clapham.  Floating Farm, completing imminently in Rotterdam, will house cows on the city’s waterways, bringing dairy production right into the heart of the city.

Interactive offerings at the exhibition include a doll’s house-sized home of the future, in which visitors can arrange miniature anaerobic digesters, insect breeding equipment and beehives which are slated to become part of the ordinary domestic mix, while an interactive app table will showcase organisations that are already up-and-running, offering everything from access to unused food from restaurants to food deliveries by robot.  Domestic hydroponics units will be in action in the gallery for the run of the show, producing some fast-growing micro leaves for peckish visitors.

This is an exciting time for architects and city planners to join forces with businesses, communities and individual urbanites to get behind a major shift in societal behaviour, enabling new as well as traditional food to be cultivated in the very fabric of the city, with ingenious re-imagining of all our city spaces and the re-discovery of a sense of value to the food we eat.  This will bring a host of additional hidden benefits to urban dwellers: a new appreciation of nature; improved mental and physical health; exposure to natural environments; access to fresher, more local food; and a new set of social connections that can and should emerge from the making and sharing of food.  These new food production practices will soon need to be a part of every architect’s brief, encouraging the exploitation of all available space to provide sustainable food to our hungry cities, not to substitute, but rather to complement, traditional, rural farming,” says Department22.

Caroline Kilgour, Programme & Communications Manager at Roca London Gallery, says:

As a supporter of sustainable design, Roca is thrilled with this exhibition narrative as it explores real possibilities for the future of London, raising questions around consumption, architecture and the pressures of urban-living. We hope that visitors to this thought-provoking exhibition will be inspired to re-consider everyday approaches to food, how we live and the impact we can all make towards making London a city that embraces self-sufficiency.”



See here the film produced for BBC Sunday Politics show talking about the exhibition: