The Open Food-production University of Danube

Landscape as educational interface

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Romania and Bulgaria are facing serious financial problems and their GDP is among the lowest in the European continent. This is due to the transition from the rule of a communist regime into a western-type economy. The problem is more evident at the states' agricultural sector: very low yields and quotas1, a population of old farmers and stray land. However, agriculture has many more potentials at the last part of Danube's estuary: high quality and quantity2 of arable land and a long tradition in agriculture. This could become the force to change the agriculture-based3 financial structure of both states and improve the lives of their citizens. One of the solutions proposed by many stakeholders is the improvement of the educational background of farmers, the introduction of new technologies and the enforcement of innovation production. Additionally, the accession of the two states at E.U. creates a fertile context for joint, cross-border cooperation for an improved agricultural sector, with extensions to the qualities of rural space and landscape. Hypothesis and strategy The hypothesis that is tested in the design is that an educational landscape can stimulate the development of the agricultural sector as well as to create attractive landscapes re-establishing connections between cities and their surroundings. The administrative areas of Giurgiu (Ro) and Ruse (Bu) will serve as a case study for developing an Open Food-production University (FoodUni). The OFPU is a spatial intervention that intends to upgrade the educational background of farmers as well as the long-term attitude locals have towards agriculture, rural space and food. It is an accessible landscape which intends to bring agricultural knowledge to local populations directly through the interaction with a landscape that agricultural scientists continuously evolve for them and not indirectly through an agriculturalist or a consultant office. It is an open dialogue between the landscape, the scientific community of the wider area of Europe, the farmers and the local population. The keyword that can describe the innovation that FoodUni brings to the area is Synergy. Project FoodUni has the strong ambition to become part of locals' everyday life. It is located next to the cities of Giurgiu and Ruse, which host two of the most important ports of Romania and Bulgaria respectively, right at the place where one of the two bridges connecting the two countries, is located. In this way, this cross border campus becomes equally important for the citizens of both countries. In spatial terms the university campus is a clear rectangle, placed in perpendicular direction to Danube, next to the two cities, stating in a symbolic way the autonomy, a univesity should have, but transferred in spatial terms. Additionally, by using such a shape, most of the landscape types (e.g. floodplain, mountainous landscape, etc.) found at the wider area of Danube's estuary can be included within FoodUni's borders and scientists can easily conduct their tests for a big variety of landscapes, within the limits of the campus. This rectangle is divided in clear strips, each one of which has a different use. Alltogether they form a collection of continuous, evolving examples of reorganizing and utilizing rural space, each of which could function as prototype for the development of the periurban and rural areas of Romania and Bulgaria. The backbone of the university is a linear intervention crossing every one of these strips, from Bulgaria to Romania and vice versa, and it is formed by the transportation networks already existing there (train, highway), a new, proposed tramline connecting Ruse with Giurgiu, the educational and research facilities of the university and the main paths, recreational, biking and walking. In the way it is designed, it becomes a device to meet, enjoy, explore and develop the landscape surrounding it, while having educational functions at the same time. The shape of this device is defined by the local landscape characteristics along the campus, the existing transportation lines and the desired, spatial relations between them. The FoodUni offers a test field for scientific experimentation and applications at real scale areas. These are called satellite landscapes and function either as transfer of already tested knowledge directly to more remote landscapes and farmers, or as initiatives to start a research in the university’s test fields and laboratories, so the other way around. Some of these examples are used to form the current snapshot-masterplan of the university given here, since the proposed landscape is under continuous transformation by people using it. It is again a form of synergy between the real landscape and the University campus. Conclusion University facilities at FoodUni give agricultural scientists the tools to work directly at the landscape they want to develop, farmers can access it at any time, come in contact with new methods and state their problems directly to the scientists, while local people can visit the university for recreational reasons and at the same time learn about food production and quality and redefine their nutritional habits based on the new knowledge they acquire. This site specific project crosses three borders: the physical border of the Danube, the borders between design typologies of landscape space and the borders between science and practice. At first glance, with great symbolism it literally projects field studies onto the landscape of both bordering countries crossing the river as a century old border. As a design, the educational landscape is defining a new type by combining typologies of campus, park, botanical garden, river landscape and agricultural garden. This new type should be also establishing a new understanding of Landscape Architecture as a generating force that integrates seemingly separated development goals and inscribes them into the land and the collective memory of its people. The landscape as educational interface is transforming first the local condition on the central campus and in satellites, but on the long run will change the attitude of both farmers and locals in order to achieve a long term sustainable development of agriculture for the near and long future of Romania and Bulgaria.