Within its Wet Folds Grew an Architecture of Revised Food Safety Regulations


Cambridge / 2018         Abstract
        In the design of commercial food processing facilities, the narrow scope of architectural possibility is governed largely by a single rule: floors, walls, and ceilings are to be clad in nonporous, easily-sanitizable materials. This compact provision claims the important objective of mitigating pathogen growth in food processing environments, yet it is premised on incomplete science, under-characterizing the dynamics of both moisture migration and microbial ecology in buildings. In these limitations, the prescription-based standard ends up compromising the design of existing buildings as well as blocking much-needed new construction, deepening a stronghold of regulatory capture against growing public demand for new, ecological infrastructures in the decentralization of a rising post-industrial food system.

        To achieve better pathogen management with fewer unnecessary compromises, this thesis considers groundwork for an alternative performance-based standard, drawing on the richness of advances being made in understanding massive porous architectures, distributed low-cost monitoring technologies, and homeostatic microbial ecologies. Shifting cultural attitudes are also allowing fear and attempted control of the microbially unknown to give way to greater curiosity and humility. Rather than optimizing architecture for sterilizability, the standard might now be based on cultivating buildings with a holistic immunity to pathogen challenge. To research possibilities for near-term regulatory reform and test correlations between pathogen risk and ratios of surface-area-to-volume in different construction types, this project takes the edge case of working with Listeria monocytogenes in facilities for small-batch open fermentation. Investigations and proposals consist in close reading of existing code, identification of federal mandate for sector-wide data collection on key architectural parameters, and feasibility testing for the tools needed to predict, monitor, and demonstrate building compliance with this project’s newly proposed regulatory standard.


Mists, Miasmas, Moisture
The mother presence is incredible, with the deep lake holding space and containing.
The fruits of her labors are seen in the luscious plant life and lively jungle around us.
It’s incredible.

Somewhere in recent years it became a thing to agree how much you, as well, dislike the word ‘moist’. Publications from Buzzfeed to the New Yorker have added the journalistic ballast of listicles and reader surveys to this leaderless movement, and it was only a matter of time before the full heft of academic research was brought to bear. In 2016, researchers in linguistics at Oberlin College and Trinity University (Thibodeau, Bromberg, Hernandez & Wilson, 2014) ran a series of experiments to find out whether the word was truly so repulsive, and if so, why.

Of the 24% of study participants who did in fact dislike the word, most claimed their aversion to be phonic in origin. “It just has an ugly sound that makes whatever you’re talking about sound gross,” voiced one participant. Yet when similar phoneme strings, such as ‘foist’ and ‘rejoiced’ were tested, the repulsion fell away. Equally, participants reported highest rates of disgust when presented with ‘moist’ paired against positive words like paradise or sexual words like caress. Additionally, the younger, more neurotic, and more displeased with bodily functions study participants reported themselves to be, the more likely likely they were to also dislike ‘moist’. So there it was all along. We are just into being uncomfortable with the healthy accumulation of fluids linked to our most intimate bodily functions, and in particular, as one participant pointed out, “it reminds people of sex and vaginas.” There, despite the life-giving potency of its red waters, the pleasurable necessity of its endogenous lubrication, and the pathogen-fighting protection brewed in it lactobacillus-drenched folds, there, again, a deep, simple, disdain for the vagina, spilling over into can’t even with ‘moist’ altogether.

As a preliminary subset of pertinent considerations, this project focuses on food safety in architecture primarily through the lens of moisture management. While many conditions of the built environment can hasten or hamper microbial growth, from temperature to air movement to surface pH, none is so powerful in our timeless relationship with microbes as the absence or presence of moisture. Equally, none is as naturally within the domain of architecture to more thoughtfully manage.  “Moisture Control in Buildings: The Key Factor in Mold Prevention, 2nd Edition” declares the title of a 2009 American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) manual (Trechsel & Bomberg, 2009). Just as it technically uncontroversial, it is also viscerally instinctive to us that increased moisture in containment leads to increased microbial growth. In our impulse to pop a pimple or drain a swamp is a primal aversion to the pestilent clutches of any standing water. Not a bad instinct, but not the whole picture either. Two, or a thousand, centuries into the project of man and machine attempting to replace woman and child, this project attempts to help lay groundwork for an improved approach to regulating food safety in the design of food processing facilities, beginning with a more clear-eyed understanding of moisture management’s true impacts on microbial growth.

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