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The Life and Death of the Supermarket: How Food Trade Infrastructure Affects the Design of Architectural and Urban Settings

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posted on 2023-03-14, 23:30 authored by Lee, Mathew

Historically food has played an important role in how cities are shaped. The modern city is no exception to this, yet it holds an abstracted relationship to the hinterlands that feed it (Steel: 2008), thus giving the perception (particularly in Western cities) that constant food supply to the city is a given right. The problem of feeding cities still remains a challenge (Diamond: 2005), one that, in combination with an ever increasing scarcity of fossil fuels, has led to a emerging tide of urbanism looking to bring localised food back to prominence in the city. More so, investigating building infrastructure to mass produce food in cities themselves: the return to a city state model. A consequence of this is also a move towards a more resource sustainable city framework. However, there is little discussion around how this new food urbanism will be structured within the city, and conversely, how it will structure the city. The most prominent architectural/urban typology which represents food in the city currently is that of the supermarket building, a type which has evolved from the urban market but has shed its civic role (Steel: 2008). This is further characterised by the common use of the private motor vehicle to access the supermarkets site. What if we were to amputate the car from the supermarket? Would we return to the urban market as the defining food space typology in the city? Or would food space be embodied in a new formal language? Primary Research Question(s): How can we track the implications of food (supply, demand, requirements) for the contemporary Western city through a supermarket typology? Secondary Research Questions: How does food culture and its resulting space enhance the urban public sphere (i.e. the vitality of the city)? Methodology Using the analysis model of design (institutionalised/autonomous design process) versus nondesign (overlapping of cultural systems in which design is one of these) laid out by Diana Agrest in 1974 as an analysis departure point; the research will investigate the historical and contemporary role of food markets in cities. The supermarket typology will form the basis for how food exchange related design affects urban fabric build-up in Western cities. Through links in the literature review, as well as empirically based evidence, I draw through extrapolations of how a food market driven city might conduct urban change. This may nurture a more direct relationship to its surrounding geography (e.g. the hinterland) and the food sources needed to feed it. Empirical analysis has been conducted on what might typify a vibrant and civically significant urban market to counteract the research into supermarket typologies. The Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, Australia, has been selected as this case study. There is an assumption that there are qualities instilled in urban markets which have more positive effects for urban environments than that of supermarkets. Thus, through looking at these environments it may be possible to tease out new directions for solidifying the prominence of food in the city once more.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Architecture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Accounting and Commercial Law


Kebbell, Sam