052-1147-23L  AGRITOPIA: Building a Model for Zürich Nord

SemesterAutumn Semester 2023
LecturersM. Topalovic
Periodicityevery semester recurring course
Language of instructionEnglish
CommentPlease register (Link) only after the internal enrolment for the design classes (see Link).

Project grading at semester end is based on the list of enrolments on 1.11.2023 (valuation date) only. This is the ultimate deadline to unsubscribe or enroll for the studio.


052-1147-23 UArchitectural Design V-IX: Agritopia—Building a Model for Zürich Nord (M.Topalovic) Special students and auditors need a special permission from the lecturers.
Permission from lecturers required for all students.
No course on 24/25.10 (seminar week).
16 hrs
Tue09:45-17:30ONA G 37 »
Wed08:00-17:30ONA G 37 »
M. Topalovic

Catalogue data

AbstractWe create an Agritopia, a utopian vision for the agricultural territories of Zürich Nord for the year 2100.The site is be the agricultural landscape that borders the city of Zurich and the communes of Rümlang and Regensdorf. Together, we will be building a large territorial model, using various materials and scales to depict the changing landscape and human practice.
The semester consists of investigative journeys and intensive studio sessions. Architecture of Territory values intellectual curiosity, commitment and team spirit. We are looking for avid travelers, motivated to make strong and independent contributions. Students will apply a range of methods and sources pertaining to territory, including ethnographic fieldwork, large-scale drawing techniques, model making, literature research, essay writing, and online publishing. Students work in groups of 2 to 3.

Investigative fieldwork is a crucial part of the project. During common days in the field in Zürich Nord agricultural pioneers and experts will guide us through the territory, including visits to several hamlets, farms and community farming projects. Throughout the semester, students will also conduct independent fieldwork in the respective student groups, exploring and documenting the landscape, and interviewing locals and experts.
Content“Be realistic, demand the impossible”

During the summer weeks we used to prepare this semester, apocalyptic news of forest fires, migrant tragedies, and war, dominated the media. The manifold crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and increasing social inequity have left many disillusioned, while others are demanding prolongation the status quo through solutionism and technofixes. We lament the limits of Western democracies, state failures and the power of the Big Tech, but comprehensive action addressing the climate agenda is still lacking, in Switzerland and other countries. Some say that we have settled into a “long defeat” in which there is no room for optimism left. As designers we are always oriented toward the future; but, how to approach the future when our collective capacities to imagine and to act seem to be depleted? Younger generations today represented by activist movements like Fridays for Future, and others before them, have shown us that faith in a better world is necessary, if we are to move forward. As Henri Lefevbre put it, summarising the experiences of the 1968 movement: “In order to extend the possible, it is necessary to proclaim and desire the impossible. Action and strategy consist in making possible tomorrow what is impossible today.”

We thus recognise a need in our studios to “demand the impossible,” by exercising our collective imagination, to increase our capacity to act as designers, and tackle the causes of manifold crises. We are therefore initiating a new studio series Concrete Utopias, based on the notion Konkrete Utopie by philosopher Ernst Bloch, where we return the notion of utopia — not as a mere fantasy, but as a concrete potentiality of change grounded in the real, socio-economic and political conditions of a given context. Countless utopian projects continue to be proposed today, but to what ends? Think of the recent NEOM city in Saudi Arabia and the California Forever, illustrating the empty promises of consumerism and corporate governance. Countless others actions and initiatives have been realised as concrete utopias, showing potential for wider and far-reaching transformations based on democratic orientation and environmental agenda — like the socialist self-management of institutions and organisations in Yugoslavia; the Rote Fabrik in Zürich in the late 1970s and 80s; the Occupy movement; the Zone to Defend (ZAD), and community-based agriculture projects all over the world. These and other examples have inspired shifts in the discourse and practice and led to positive change. Utopian thinking thus remains useful and necessary as a method to initiate change.

Our first concrete utopia will be an AGRITOPIA. The recurrent focus on agriculture in this studio is not accidental—we believe that the crisis of our imagination is reinforced by the separation of the urban and the rural in our culture, and by continuing to think the future only in terms of urban life disconnected from the land and nature. To imagine a different urban future for Zürich, we will work on agricultural territories that lie at the city’s edges. They are an example of periurban landscapes which form vital support to cities with water sources, clean air, various materials, land for food and energy production. Only by radically reimagining territorial organisation and land use practices in ways that ae currently often disqualified as utopian and impossible, can we divert ongoing tendencies of agricultural intensification accompanied by soil degradation, water pollution and biodiversity loss. Designing sustainable biophysical relationships reflects in urban life itself, and will enable us to address issues of consumption, of commodification of land and labour, and even of housing crisis.
Lecture notesThe place and time for Agritopia are agricultural fields of Zürich Nord beyond 2050, in a world of future generations. A five minutes walk from our studio in Oerlikon toward the north, the city fabric stops and a view opens onto an agricultural landscape connecting the city of Zurich and the communes of Rümlang and Regensdorf, with Katzensee and its adjacent wetlands at its core.

This landscape constitutes the largest non-built area in the immediate vicinity of Zurich’s centre. Agricultural activities vary from conventional farms, over organic farming, community-supported agriculture to Switzerland’s largest agricultural research facility Agroscope. Can we build upon the already existing structures of commoning and cooperation that have formed at this edge of the city? What crops should be planted? How will the food be distributed? Who will own the land and who will work on it? How will people move through the territory? What are the inherent qualities of the landscape that we want to maintain and enhance? How can we weave the urban and the agricultural landscape better together? How will non-human agents such as soil, water or air be taken into account?

Large-scale models have been used, again and again, to negotiate and represent future visions of space and social organisation. Intuitive and suggestive, models prefigure a different reality and help imagine a possibility of moving from the here and now, to there and then.
A large-scale model of the site in Zürich Nord (approx. 4x3m), will be the tool of our collective project—both our final result and our working tool throughout the semester. We will form groups to tackle specific topics—from food production and distribution, to agricultural labour and nature preservation. Our sparing partners in the process will be scientists, designers, policy makers, and farmers and activists currently working on site. We will work with diverse materials and techniques, and in a range of scales from 1:100 to 1: 2000, exploring and visualising relationships between human practice and the territory. A technique of narrative model-making, where we tell stories in 3-D by presenting future protagonists, events and places, will help us convey complex ideas of change, negotiate scenarios with each other, and bring others onboard.
Prerequisites / NoticePlanning as an integrated discipline is included in this course.

Introduction: 19.9.2023, 9 am, ONA G35
Intermediate crits: 21.11.2023
Final crits: 20.12.2023
Extra costs: Approx. CHF 50,- per student
Subject-specific CompetenciesConcepts and Theoriesfostered
Techniques and Technologiesfostered
Method-specific CompetenciesAnalytical Competenciesfostered
Media and Digital Technologiesfostered
Project Managementfostered
Social CompetenciesCommunicationfostered
Cooperation and Teamworkfostered
Self-presentation and Social Influence fostered
Sensitivity to Diversityfostered
Personal CompetenciesAdaptability and Flexibilityfostered
Creative Thinkingfostered
Critical Thinkingfostered
Integrity and Work Ethicsfostered
Self-awareness and Self-reflection fostered
Self-direction and Self-management fostered

Performance assessment

Performance assessment information (valid until the course unit is held again)
Performance assessment as a semester course
ECTS credits14 credits
ExaminersM. Topalovic
Typegraded semester performance
Language of examinationEnglish
RepetitionRepetition possible without re-enrolling for the course unit.
Additional information on mode of examinationUltimate deadline for changing enrolments for this course.
After this date it is strictly forbidden to enrol for the course or to delete the enrolment!

Learning materials

Main linkInformation
Only public learning materials are listed.


No information on groups available.


General : Special students and auditors need a special permission from the lecturers
Permission from lecturers required for all students

Offered in

Architecture BachelorArchitectural Design (from 5. Semester on)WInformation