A floating ecosystem of plant-filled boxes has transformed the post-industrial architecture of the Dacheng Flour Mills site in Shekhou, China. Thomas Chung, Associate Professor of Architecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, created the Floating Fields project for the Urbanism\Architecture Bi-City Biennale (UABB) in Shenzhen as an experiment in aquaponics and algae cultivation, water filtering, and sustainable food production.
Floating Fields is based on the idea of creating a “place-based bio-social urbanism” that offers an alternative, organic lifestyle. It engages public space by creating an edible landscape and a polyculture ecology that once defined the landform of the Pearl River Delta. This region once relied on fish ponds and water-based commerce, both of which have now vanished, leaving abandoned landscapes. Similarly, the site for this year’s biennale is a product of Shenzhen’s rapid urbanization that replaced centuries-old wetland polycultures with concrete and industry.
The abandoned Dacheng Flour Mills factory was the perfect site as it already started to show signs of nature taking over the dilapidated walls and pavement. Chung revitalized the old waterway running along the former factory dormitory and transformed it into a series of filtering ponds. The same idea was used around the building itself. The designer crushed and recycled parts of the concrete rubble to fill pathways between pods, platforms, seating structure-a walkable landscape combining food production and leisure – a linear block which has itself been converted into a multi-use learning resource center with exhibition, roundtable space, library and a café restaurant.
The project combines low-tech aquaponics with a contemporary dyke-pond system. Cocoon-spinning silkworms inside a pavilion are fed from mulberry trees, filtering ponds with water-cleansing plants and grasses provide food for fish, and specially cultivated micro-algae is harvested to purify the water and produce fish feed. Multiple cycles are integrated to enable wastewater recycling, crop production, and water purification. During a Planting Festival that took place at the site, over 100 kids and their parents saw their own floating plots, caught fish and learned about different species occupying the ponds. Fish and greens were harvested on site during a Tasting Festival and offered people an opportunity to learn about urban agriculture and ecology. After receiving the Organizing Committee Award at the event’s closing ceremony in February, the project continues to engage the local community.
Photos by Thomas Chung