The project brief was to explore the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. As a response, I researched into the exploration of future food production and consumption and came across the novel biotechnology of “lab-grown meat”. This new technology produces meat without hurting animals, through an ethical and environmental friendly process and can be cost-effective at the same time.
While the technology is not “new,” there has been patent licensing since 1998 on commercial distribution for consumption of lab-grown meat. The patent license lasted for 20 years and ended in the year 2018. As such, technology companies in Silicon Valley and around the globe are starting to produce and test the production, with investors from technology moguls such as Bill Gates.
The proposed solution is as such: a lab-grown meat production plant embedded within a public park or adjacent to a wet market, where visitors and passers-by can learn about the scientific process and understand how the source of clean and environmentally responsible for the food they are eating is produced. Visitors can travel along a “blood vessel” route within the production facility and enjoy a gastro experience along the way.
This dining experience is divided up into four courses, each course set within suspended “dining cells” so that visitors can spend time, appreciate and wonder at different stages of this highly transparent food production process. In response to its sensitive site context within a park, a high-performance living mushroom material is grown to use as building insulation and façade, as part of the technical investigation.
The transparency of the food production process was the main feature of the design. The project ultimately aims to bring consumers closer to how their food is made. However, as laboratory food production is the primary function of the building, environmental, sanitation and security factors must be highly controlled. The facility splits into four levels: 1) Green Roof covering the facility is accessible by slope, merging public park-scape, 2) Ground Floor operates as a civic engagement space where the food production can be observed, and it is integrated into the park. 3) Two lower ground floors where the food production and laboratory testing operates. By sinking such operations into the lower ground, environmental controls such as temperature, humidity, noise can more so rely on passive methods, resulting in reduced energy requirements.
Due to the environmental sensitivity issue of placing a food production facility and laboratory within a public space (whereas standard food production facilities are mostly isolated), the threshold between public space and production space is of high importance. Traditional building insulation material such as PVC and Styrofoam is environmentally damaging and nonbiodegradable. Alternatively, an organic and renewable material called “Mycelium” (found in the root of the fungus) is proposed as an alternative. Mycelium combines with a base material such as Hemp or Flax, which is readily available from a range of local farms. The material is grown over a 10-day period where Mycelium “eats up” moisture, plain flour and grows throughout the base material. For this project the unique material’s process and properties are studied, harnessed and applied as sound, light, and shock absorbing building insulation material.
The two biotechnologies used in this project are new, and therefore research was not readily available.
Before 2018, the production of lab-grown meat for commercial uses was patented, the scientific process is not publicly accessible. Subsequently, there are no architectural precedents to a lab-grown meat production facility. To overcome this, I visited the biology department cell culture laboratory at my university, to understand how plant cells are cultivated using the same technology, the spatial logistics, and requirements of a cell-culture laboratory, and how it would theoretically apply to the cultivation of meat cells. After further research on the scientific process along with studying logistics and requirements of food production facilities, the spatial layout was devised, and two technical consultants checked it.
As for growing Mycelium as building insulation, I contacted the company that pioneered the technology, and they kindly advised me on how to grow my own. For the next two weeks, I developed four different samples within my bedroom. Its properties were studied and applied into different technical detail designs, forming part of the façade to show off this novel biotechnology to the public.
While speculative by nature, this project is designed not only to make lab-grown meat production and other such novel biotechnologies appealing to the public but also highly functional with efficient logistics and environmental sensibility to bring this speculation into reality. In the coming future, as lab-grown meat production increases in scale, this source of meat harvesting will undoubtedly become cheaper than traditional harvesting methods. How will we consume meat in 5, 10 or 20 years? What will the transition look? I believe this project can be truly realized in the future – in one form or another, facilitating this vital transition into eating meat in a more ethical, mindful and enjoyable way.
Principal Designer: Kenji Tang
Project Name: Butcher By The Bay
Location: Kowloon City Park
Status of Construction: Concept Stage
Site Area: 7,500 square metres
Gross Floor Area: 12,500 square metres
Building Height: 4 storeys (1 storey above ground, 3 storeys below ground)
Client/Owner/Developer: Public – Private Partnership