Estimated reading time: 5 min

Defining The Rural World

What do you picture when you think of ‘the rural’? Do you think of simpler times, a slower pace, a life free of technology and a return to nature? Perhaps you imagine a cultural wasteland, behind the times and basic in its offerings for human habitation? These urban-led narratives of an often romanticised, one-dimensional rural environment have permeated our understanding of the rural for centuries and yet this urban lens wildly misinterprets the complexities of rural areas.

People (and with them, money) move away from rural areas as part of a steady, centuries-long migration. This migration is both a product and a cause of a lack of investment in rural areas. In this article, we will look at the relationships between architecture and agriculture, sustainability and rural culture and why rural architecture is changing.

saplings inside farming

Architecture and Agriculture

As a society, our relationship with agriculture has been ever-changing. Farming is one of the most significant contributors to methane and CO2 emissions through the rearing of livestock, destruction of wild areas for farmland and the energy required to power the super-farms that account for 70+% poultry, 40+% egg and 55+% pork production. Combined with growing vegetarianism and veganism and general questions on the morality of raising and farming livestock, the agriculture industry is starting to experience a significant shake-up.

How do architects fit into this equation? One of the shared vices of the construction and agricultural industries is that they are among the most heavily polluting industries in the world. While this might feel like a damning similarity, it actually means that architects are in a prime position to improve the carbon footprints of two of the worst pollution offenders. Over the last few decades, architects and engineers have been pioneering sustainable developments across our urban landscapes. By integrating some of these technologies and techniques into the infrastructure of the agricultural industry we can ensure that farming embraces carbon neutrality through carbon sequestration, promotion of biomass energy systems, ‘green’ effluent disposal, and energy-efficient farming methods, to mitigate the impact not only of their own activities but also to a certain extent those of the cities reliant on their produce.

With the increasing concerns on the morality of livestock farming, architects can be part of multiple solutions. With vegetarianism and veganism comes a shift towards clean, manageable and sterile indoor solutions to food production. The scale of the crops required to produce plant-based meat replacements/substitutes, combined with the space required for lab-based development of meat replacements will require architects to really understand the scope of rural landscapes. The architectural industry has been rapidly developing climate-control designs for projects as urban developments have spread into locations with erratic climate conditions. By introducing these designs into agriculture infrastructure, the architecture industry can improve the future viability of farming while also contributing to the sustainable practices of our farms.

small cluster of buildings at the foot of a mountain range

Architecture and Sustainability

While we have already touched upon the ways that architects and engineers can improve sustainability in rural environments, it would be remiss of us not to dedicate a section to sustainability in rural areas. It is an idea that is perhaps often overlooked as the culprits are not as easily identifiable as they are in urban areas. In urban areas, it is easy to see the congested traffic, landfills, power plants, densely populated areas with near-constant construction and electricity powering everything, every day. In rural areas, the problems might not be so immediately visible.

While agricultural activities contribute significantly to rural pollution, general lack of established infrastructure in rural areas also plays a role. Inaccessibility forces a reliance on cars as the primary means of transportation. This inaccessibility also contributes to issues with waste management,  A lack of investment in rural areas also means that buildings are old, cold or inefficient and consume large amounts of energy. By improving how rural areas are connected and their infrastructure, architects can play an important role in improving rural sustainability.

Architecture and Rural Culture

As mentioned in the introduction, part of the problem with the architectural industry’s relationship with the rural is that the prevailing belief is still that rural developments cannot be too urban or too contemporary. However, an emerging trend of hybrid projects are starting to bridge the gap between rural and urban design such as combining the rural role of farms with more modern visitor centres that display heritage, art and architecture. These projects encourage people to reframe their narratives of the rural and allow more architects to embrace the rural as an evolving, contemporary space. 

A Role To Play

There is something of a contradiction between the order and planning of architecture with the freedom and chaos of rural life. An environment filled with seemingly unrelated and limited resources might not seem like the new frontier for the architectural industry. However, the scope of rural development is changing. Rising populations have put unprecedented pressure on the agriculture industry, urban sprawl is pushing people out of cities and into transition spaces that are neither urban nor rural and the global climate crisis is being addressed by governments across the world. Architects were instrumental in developing the post-industrial urban regeneration of our cities and they are well poised to do the same with our rural world today.