Wetland Disappearance, Photo credit: Deniz Sabuncu
Wetland Disappearance, Photo credit: Deniz Sabuncu

Royal College of Art and Community Jameel announce CLIMAVORE partnership with Turner Prize nominees Cooking Sections

Royal College of Art

The Royal College of Art (RCA), the world’s number one art and design university, and Community Jameel announced today the launch of CLIMAVORE x Jameel at RCA, a new initiative led by Alon Schwabe and Daniel Fernández Pascual, senior research fellows in the RCA school of architecture and co-founders of the art and architectural practice Cooking Sections. Based in the school of architecture, CLIMAVORE x Jameel at RCA uses architectural and artistic investigative tools, education and action to advance ecological networks beyond current understandings of sustainability, and produce new knowledge around food and climate justice. The new partnership aims to reimagine how we eat as human activity changes the climate by developing new methodologies and enhancing policies around the globe.

CLIMAVORE x Jameel at RCA is a three-year partnership that will focus on two distinct and related projects, working in close proximity with its case study sites in Türkiye, France and Italy through key local collaborators. The partnership will also offer funding for postgraduate research fellowships to develop additional site-specific case studies with cultural and civic organisations around the globe. CLIMAVORE x Jameel’s two projects explore how nature-centred food systems can be developed with communities in drylands and wetlands that are subject to particular seasonal stresses, exacerbated by human activity over centuries:

1. Season of wetland disappearance

Wetlands, moors, marshes, swamps, mangroves and mudflats have been drained to ‘improve’ land for centuries, despite the importance of their biodiversity, filtering capacity, and buffering against flooding. CLIMAVORE advocates to stop further draining by highlighting the rich variety of ingredients from this murky terrain. Despite being incredibly rich habitats, wetlands have been drained for centuries to impose monoculture farmland, create real estate expansion, displace freedom seekers, or eradicate malaria, from the coasts of Italy and Sri Lanka to the Tigris-Euphrates and the Mississippi. In the past decades however, these liminal landscapes have been recognised for contributing towards climate resilience. Can wetlands be the orchards of the future? With 2023 declared the UN year of rangelands and pastoralists, new international focus has been put on free animal roaming space and historical transhumance routes. On the outskirts of Istanbul, inland wetlands are home to water buffalo, their herders, and a host of species that depend on them. Knowledge brought by Bulgarian herders in Ottoman times, and Turks exiled from Greece after the 1923 population exchange, boosted buffalo milk as an essential ingredient in yoghurt, kaymak and sütlaç. Since 2013, the region has seen a number of hyper-scale constructions and the plans for digging a new shipping canal that threaten to transform the ecosystems of the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara. Located in the lands of the Buffalo, these megaprojects have re-zoned the area from rural to urban, draining the wetlands and fragmenting the grazing commons as a side-effect. Through the study of metabolic interactions across species the project works to preserve the food and ecological heritage of the wetlands, herders and their pastoralist ways of life. It builds upon existing collaborations with the herders, and the work developed by CLIMAVORE in Istanbul over the past four years.

2. Season of drought

Most of the driest winters since the beginning of the twentieth century around the Mediterranean Sea have been experienced in the past two decades. Yet the struggle to cultivate edible produce in water-scarce territories is not new. Over centuries, complex technologies such as tunnels, cisterns, and terraces have been developed to channel and retain water or air humidity. Places like Pantelleria, an island between Sicily and Tunisia without freshwater sources, developed dry irrigation techniques by building gardens with dry-stone walls. These systems consisted of microclimates to ‘water without water.’ As the heat frontier moves, increasing labour exploitation of North African and Eastern European workers continues to be driven by access to water for harvesting ‘affordable’ tomatoes, grapes, or blood oranges. Through the study of dryland microclimates, the project aims to experiment with alternative farming methods in drought conditions by seeking to diversify former monoculture crops that are failing to cope with climatic changes.

Dr Paul Thompson, vice-chancellor at the Royal College of Art, said: ‘We are very grateful to Community Jameel for their support for this timely research project. Using socially engaged approaches rooted in architecture, design and art, the researchers will explore the impact of climate change on local communities and their food security, seeking to develop more equitable models for future sustainable ecosystems.’

George Richards, director of Community Jameel, said: ‘As the climate crisis continues to impact all aspects of how we live, we must challenge ourselves to develop new understandings and new solutions to ensure a more just future for all. We are excited to partner with Cooking Sections and the Royal College of Art to launch CLIMAVORE x Jameel which will result in more informed policies that will promote food security and enhanced climate justice in the face of ever-growing challenges.’

Alon Schwabe and Daniel Fernández Pascual said: ‘Since establishing CLIMAVORE in 2015 the platform has worked to address food habits and desires in the face of the climate emergency. We are excited about the scope of the CLIMAVORE x Jameel at the RCA partnership and the research it will enable us to develop in Istanbul, Southern Italy and France, building on our ongoing work in these regions.’

CLIMAVORE is a long-term initiative founded by Turner Prize-nominated artist duo Cooking Sections in 2015, comprising a variety of site-responsive projects, either self-initiated or delivered in partnership with cultural institutions. CLIMAVORE collaborates with experts in ecology, marine biology, agronomy, nutrition, and engineering among others. CLIMAVORE proposes an adaptive form of eating, shifting for instance to drought-resistant crops in a period of water scarcity or filter feeders during times of polluted waters by fish farms.