Ben Nicholson “Systems” Workshop: Design a Chicken City!
Today we welcomed our first official “guest lecturer/speaker” to Studio H: Ben Nicholson, a high school friend and overall scientific genius. His accolades include degrees from Cornell and MIT, experience working in municipal wastewater management, chemical engineering, biodiesel and alternative fuel sources, and involvement in 4H and the California Avian Bowl in his younger days. Ben is now in Business School at the University of California Davis and is visiting for the week from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Ben gave us two fascinating presentations: one about wastewater, which walked us through the composition, treatment, and use of wastewater. In talking about wastewater, it was interesting to note the differing scale of operations, between, say, Windsor (where we are), and Tokyo, which uses a very similar treatment plant, but just MUCH bigger (actually they have multiple plants). We also discussed how wastewater plants are located (often near airports) to not disturb residential living, etc. In Tokyo, for example, the plant we saw in an aerial photo was surrounded by a greenbelt with recreational facilities: tennis courts, baseball fields, etc. The wastewater lecture was a great introduction to the design of systems and how resources move through them in the most efficient ways.
His second presentation introduced a similar concept, but for chickens. Ben introduced the egg-laying chicken as a metaphor for a factory (resources come in, the chicken produces something, and resources go out). In the case of the chicken, it requires food, water, sunlight, etc coming in, then produces an egg and waste. In its production process, it requires things like security from predators, security from weather, and systems to support its food and water provisions.
We also learned from Ben that chickens lay eggs with harder shells when they eat oyster shells, and have better yolks when they eat more protein, like mealworms. We also discovered that chickens can be cannibalistic, eating other chicken parts or eggs (yeesh!). Before introducing the design exercise, we covered some of the basic needs and characteristics of chickens that would help dictate our design for the chicken coops (which we will officially start next week).
The Design Brief followed for today’s exercise: Design a “Chicken City” for 2000 egg-laying hens. The criteria (the “must-haves”) for the city were:
- Food and Water
- Area to lay eggs
- Egg Removal
- Waste Removal
- Protection from weather (heat, wind, rain)
- Protection from predators (what’s local?)
The class was divided into two teams (one of 6, one of 7). In order to meet these goals, we assigned “roles” to each member of the city planning teams:
- Head of the Chamber of Commerce (Economic Development)
- Police Chief
- Head of Public Health and Waste Management
- Food Marshal
- Head of Parks and Recreation
- Commissioner of Utilities: Water and Power
Each team was then required to “master plan” their city, with each team member relying on partnerships with others to make the city run smoothly. Here’s what the teams came up with:
Team 1: Ocean Brees Island (note that Brees is spelled like NFL quarterback Drew Brees)
For this scheme, the team chose an island for protection, and set up their plan in strips of different functions, with chicken residences on one side, and utilities and waste management on the other “to keep the smells away.” The central strip of the island was the park and plaza, where commerce, food provisions, and parks and recreation were combined to create a public space used by all. Watch the video of their presentation below (HUGE kudos to team members for their articulate and well-collaborated presentation of the master plan!).
Overall, Team 1′s scheme was a well-thought-out plan that centered the Chicken City’s resources around public spaces (Alexia said “chickens are social creatures, so they can eat and play together as their main activity”).
Team 2: Le Corbusier-inspired chicken “utopia,” in 4 parts
Team 2 had a Modernist take on a chicken utopia, creating a four-pronged city with the central “hub” as the “Egg Plant,” where chickens go to work, to produce eggs, and where the city’s commercial center was located. Every day, chickens would wake up and go through the “chicken car wash,” an effort by the utilities and public health commissioners to keep everyone clean and healthy. After that, they would go to the cafeterias to eat, then the Egg Plant, then enjoy the city’s public spaces, with one large rec area for each quadrant. Ben (the “governor”) pointed out that such a design would allow for efficient quarantining if one quadrant of chickens got sick, but also had enough central spaces for all chickens to feel like they were a part of the city’s population and workforce. Watch the video of their presentation below:
After both presentations, we all thanked Ben for his contribution and for a wonderful workshop – we had begun to think about the design of closed loops and efficient sustainable systems, which will be a great foundation as we start designing the actual chicken coops.