Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pig City

"Pig towers," Courtesy MDRDV, All rights reserved

A well-regarded Dutch architectural firm, MDRDV, has spent four years creating a plan to build seventy six high-rise towers to house pigs.

As reported on the ArchiNed News website, the pigs will be born & die (be slaughtered) in the 2000-foot-high towers. But at least they won’t be shut-ins. “Large balconies allow the animals to rummage around under trees outside, " say the architects. "A central abattoir is housed in the plinth, and pigs for slaughter are moved in lifts. On top is a fish farm that supplies some of the food needed. Each tower also contains a central slurry-processing plant and a biogas tank, which easily caters for the tower's energy needs. To reduce transport costs, 44 towers are located in the port; the other towers are located close to major cities.”

Are you still staggering from the picture this creates in your head? (See artist's austere rendering above) Well, says MDRDV, face facts: “The Netherlands produces some 16.5 million tonnes of pig meat each year, making it the European Union's leading exporter. In 1999 there were officially 15.2 million pigs in the country, and 15.5 million people. Each pig requires 664 square metres of space, including that required for meat processing ... If meat consumption was to stay at today's levels and purely organic farming methods were introduced, the pig industry would need 75% of the surface area of the Netherlands.”

"Pigs & appletree," Courtesy MDRDV, All rights reserved

So this isn’t just about profit then? This scheme would address important societal problems, including a pig vs. people lebensraum problem you probably didn't even know about. Maybe we should think about Pig City as a kind of pragmatist's utopia, not just for us hungry humans but also for the long-suffering nation of swine. “If pigs are efficiently kept in stacked 'apartments' in such a way that they enjoy better conditions, the meat acquires a better taste, livestock transport becomes unnecessary, diseases are eliminated, and the Netherlands acquires more space," according to MVRDV.

Right. But what if something breaks down in Pig City? Fish farm, slurry processing plant, biogas power system? With all that, a lot could go wrong. What if the humans who keep it all running don’t show up one day? Or two or three. Say there’s a gigantic hurricane. Say there’s a labor dispute. What if, left alone, the pigs get ornery & push out the doors? Can you imagine 50,000 huge, hungry, hogs trotting around Rotterdam trying to remember where they left their baser instincts?

"Pig mob" MDRDV

"Pig mob (closer)" MDRDV

But wait a minute! Is this for real? Could this be a sort of performance art, aimed at raising uncomfortable questions? An exhibition & wide-ranging panel discussion of Pig City by the contemporary art museum Stroom Den Haag suggests this might be the case. ArchiNed's post suggests just such an ironic reading: “Pig City is a cartoon-like representation of today's situation and, unlike the secret bio-industry, makes no attempt to gloss over the consequences of our pattern of consumption. The presentation, for that matter, is so lifelike that many read it as a realistic alternative.” So is it a fake? It's true that humans keep having babies at an explosive rate & that, if we can get it, we like pork chops as our protein. It's also true that we're running out of prime agricultiural land & that using such land to raise pigs -- which, after all, stink & produce gargantuan quantities of shit -- is not popular. Does this mean Pig City is the future?

ArchiNed doesn't offer an opinion. It does, however, note that “no doubt MVRDV would be the first to take on the job should it prove feasible."

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