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Floating Field

Leonardo Lella
New York

American artist Mary Mattingly proposes to transform a New York shipping barge into the verdant floating farm Swale to produce free fresh food for visitors, and through this inspire policy changes in water and green space management.

Why shouldn’t agricultural fields float?




Floating architecture – undoubtedly one of the most significant issues of recent architectural debate. Confronting the unstoppable expansion of urban areas, the increase of the world’s population and the exhaustion of buildable areas, building on water seems for many architects to be the best solution to address urban and climate changes in the next decades. It must be admitted that so far only few projects have been realised, but some cities are taking a step forward. New York for example: Why shouldn’t agricultural fields float, too?

The project “Swale” originates from a previous event that New York based artist Mary Mattingly realised in 2009: a floating barge navigated down the East River and docking at several Manhattan piers to let the people in. The barge hosted a self-sufficient sculptural light structure dedicated to the community, artistic activity and a second spherical space that included space for hydroponic and vertical agriculture, water recycling, and alternative power sources.

As the first project had a considerable media attention and was very successful, the artist has proposed now to transform a second shipping barge into a verdant floating farm in collaboration with a collective of artists and designers. The idea is to have a real floating garden with 100 species of plants, ranging from artichokes and arugula to lime trees that could be irrigated with filtered river-water. Of course this garden shouldn’t exist just for leisure: the farm would be open to the public and offer fruit and vegetables for free. “We want to reimagine fresh, free food as a public service, not just a commodity”, explained Mary Mattingly. In recent years she specialized in creation of sculptural ecosystems in urban areas and sustainable self-sufficient spaces.

The project is actually just one of three proposed for Swale: the initiative will also include the creation of a permanent “food forest” in a public space in New York and actions to invoke policy changes concerning water and green space management. A good example of how art and architecture can activate environmentally conscious behaviours and improve our urban space.

Renderings: Swale New York, 2016

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