Design, Food and Metal: Archeworks' Mobile Food Collective – Part One

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Mobile Food Collective’s trailer, the “Mothership, in action

It was through a friend of mine, photographer and artist Michelle Litvin, that I had the opportunity to be introduced to members of Chicago-based design school Archeworks, whose postgraduate program has gained a national reputation in social design innovation. Over its 18-year history, Archeworks’ design students have collaborated with community partners on over 45 socially responsible design projects. Their team-based multidisciplinary learning approach allows for continuous feedback and maximum participation between design students and community partners.

One of the school’s recent initiatives was inspired by the challenge of urban “food deserts. Archeworks design students created the Mobile Food Collective (MFC), featuring a versatile, metal-crafted trailer that promotes a healthy food culture. In this interview, faculty member Catherine Muller and executive director Susanne Schnell explain more about the program and its key metallic tool.

Q: What is the Mobile Food Collective?

A: The MFC is mobile architecture meant to inspire a rethinking of our relationship to food. We aim to engage communities in a new food culture that incorporates heritage, ownership, exchange and connection.

With our family of mobile structures”mobile unit, bikes and trailers”we address issues of access and education around growing and eating fresh, organic, local ingredients.

The Collective’s vehicle-sized mobile trailer (affectionately known as the “Mothership) hosts and facilitates public events through a variety of adaptations at multiple scales. A large wooden countertop runs along the structure’s main axis, serving as a communal harvest table, a surface for conducting cooking demonstrations, or a performance or educational platform. The fleet of bikes and custom trailers both publicize the Collective’s mission and expand its reach by delivering programming, tools, and materials to satellite locations.

The project grew from student work within Archeworks, a postgraduate multidisciplinary design school that advances design in the public interest and inspires collaborative action to shape more ecologically sustainable cities.

Q: The Mobile Food Collective features an accessible trailer as part of its programming. What was the process of designing a working prototype of this structure?

A: The team approached the design of the project with quite a few considerations. From an ergonomic/experiential standpoint, we debated trailer and table length”the number of people the table could accommodate; how to create an intimate and inclusive space for a gathering. Looking at height”we considered what was ideal for both standing/leaning and also bar-type seating, a height that encouraged a number of different approaches, including the different kinds of spaces created by the variable positions of the open “wings. Also the table width”how much space allowed for the interaction we wanted to inspire”sharing a meal, information or stories. And then there were considerations of road conditions, doorway widths, etc.”knowing the trailer needed and wanted to be transported all over the city, but also not so ungainly that it wouldn’t work in an indoor space (both physically and experientially).

After determining the ideal dimensions, we developed shop drawings and delivered them to Travis Nam at Crosstree Metal to fabricate the basic frame. Materially, we discussed the relative benefits of aluminum vs. steel, but in the end, we opted for steel as the more durable option that gave us the weight we needed to anchor the structure.

Functionally, once the frame was fabricated, the team went through a bit of trial and error, working through a number of functional details (moving parts, integrating the sailcloth sheath). We resolved these concerns in real-time rather than in spec’ing ahead of time. This allowed us to move quickly to complete the work for a number of programming events in Chicago as a lead-up to the Biennale in Venice.

Axonometric rendering of Mobile Food Collective (MFC) trailer’s steel frame

Lessons in steelwork for MFC’s trailer

Continued  in Part Two

Nate Burgos

Unless otherwise credited, all images courtesy of Archeworks’ Mobile Food Collective.

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