The Sausalito office is planning a new multi-use development on an old industrial site measuring over 100 acres in Davis, California. With such a large site it’s common to include some sort of buffer, often to mitigate storm water or to screen views. James W. Rouse’s site plan for Columbia, Maryland, comes to mind. In… Read more »
The Sausalito office is planning a new multi-use development on an old industrial site measuring over 100 acres in Davis, California. With such a large site it’s common to include some sort of buffer, often to mitigate storm water or to screen views. James W. Rouse’s site plan for Columbia, Maryland, comes to mind. In addition to featuring these types of greenbelts, the Davis site includes a working farm managed by a local nonprofit that trains young people in market farming. The venture intends to sell directly to local residents, creating a guaranteed market for the farmers as well as a local source of diverse, seasonal food for the neighborhood. In some ways this scheme recalls late-19th/early-20th-century reformer Ebenezer Howard’s small autonomous village-towns with dedicated agricultural greenbelts surrounding the “garden cities of to-morrow.”
The farm in Davis runs along the entire eastern edge of the site and will include two orchards, row crop plots, an herb and cutting garden, harvestable ornamental products, and two continuous hedgerows at the edges to attract pollinators, beneficial insects, and increase biodiversity. The design incorporates research in agroforestry, water-use reduction, and regionally important food crops. In planning this space for both the early stages—when it will accommodate more public traffic—and the later stages—when it transitions to more utilitarian uses, we aimed for productivity, transparency, and diversity.
Although the combination of agriculture, residential, and commercial land use creates a new development typology in California, the exercise recalls the 18th-century concept of ferme ornée, or “ornamented farm.” In the early 1700s, English writers addressing large estate owners sought to enhance a pastoral setting that was fast disappearing under the enclosure movement. This farm-as-landscape idea included farm plots ringed with hedgerows, views out to the surrounding countryside, iconography evoking classical or nationalistic associations, and a circuit around the ferme ornée proper that provided access for workers and visitors.
In a period of national pride and trade protectionism, English Whigs sought to distinguish their native landscape from the geometric French traditions that had prevailed in gardening. The resulting enclosure movement, which took commonly held lands tilled by allotment and transferred them into private ownership to be farmed by tenants, created estates that allowed large-scale experimentation. The ferme ornée concept experimented with combining agricultural productivity and a pleasure park open to guests. In Davis today, the scale is reversed: Instead of consolidating land from small lots into large, the large industrial agricultural plots are being replaced by small ones worked by many different farmers. Yet, the experimentation with productivity and accessibility is common to both. Planned for a June debut, that the new development in Davis might well have the capacity to have pleased both long-dead Whigs and inspire current-day locavores is a testament to its culturally classic appeal.
Image: Planting diagram of the original ferme ornée on Philip Southcote’s Wooburn Farm (ca. 1734), courtesy of Yale University.