Horta: Molecular Agriculture in Portugal

Portugal is undergoing some of the most widespread changes of land use in all of Europe. After a focus on service industries upon joining the EU in 1986, there is now an exodus from the metropolitan regions of Lisbon and Porto back to the land.

Major shifts in the way that architecture has organised the land have always been simultaneous with major reorganisations of capital flows and new forms of economy. Three such shifts from the last millennium were the monastery system of the 12th century, the plantation at the birth of the Portuguese empire and the Monte at the Liberal Revolution, after Napolean retreated from Portugal with a Scorched Earth policy.

We are now in a fourth shift, the neoliberal age, which requires a new organisation of work upon the land.

The EU-funded Alqueva dam is the largest irrigation project in Europe, and it is this land that I am transforming into a new form of plantation that organises work in such a way as to accommodate the messy complexities of contemporary life.

Using LiDAR remote sensing, this is one super-large farm that is monitored and managed to a molecular degree. Assets are exchanged by their molecular value, and must at all times be bound to the land: they may never be liquidated.


Horta, an institution for molecular agriculture in the South of Portugal.

Horta and metropolitan Portugal

Horta takes the entire region that is affected by the irrigated of the Alqueva dam as its field of operation.

Since the financial crisis there has been an exodus from the metropolitan regions of Portugal back towards the land.

In white is what is classified as 'artificial surfaces' by the CORINE system.

Metropolitan Portugal takes the form of a triangle between Porto, Lisbon and Coimbra that hugs the Atlantic coast.

Land use change in Portugal

Portugal hosts the most widespread change of land use in all of Europe.

The EU understand this transformation through the CORINE project, initiated in 1986 and tested in Portugal.

This was the first attempt to unite all of Europe under the same categories of land use.

Land use is simplified to a resolution of 25 hectares and then assigned one of 44 categories, such as 'airport' or 'burnt areas.'

Land and Work: Two agents

What is at stake in the contemporary landscape is the relationship between two agents: the land and the organisation of work upon that land.

Major advances in the way architecture organises the landscape are always simultaneous with the emergence of new forms of economy and reorganisations of capital.

Molecular exchange

This is a contract in which rental rights are available either to agricultural produce or to forms of work. These are pooled centrally, then subcontracted. If you buy rental rights to a particular amount of vines, you may also be the subcontractor who decides to grow those vines, or not as you so wish.


Assets of the scheme may take a material form, (as Moles of produce) or immaterial (as Newton Metres of work). These calculations are to be made in the central archive and are based on continually updated feeds of LiDAR data.

This is the construction of an economy that is inextricably locked in to the land irrigated by the
Alqueva dam.

Land and Work: Three millenary shifts

There have been three key shifts in the way that work has organised the Portuguese landscape in the last millennium.

Through a notion of redemption, the Cistercian monastery system expelled the Moors and revolutionised the landscape.

The plantation was the means by which the Portuguese exported agricultural monocultures and formed a global empire through a condition of violence.

Napolean scorched the earth of Portugal in 1810, and the Liberal revolution of 1820 brought with it a new organisation of work in the form of the Monte.

Today, the neoliberal age demands a new organisation of work.

Horta as olfactory object

The contemporary landscape is a complex, messy, at times violent and, above all, multivalent, condition. A multivalent condition requires a multiplicity of framing devices to understand it. CORINE is not, therefore, fit for this purpose.

In addition to being the site of complex forms of postcolonial exchange, horta is an olfactory object.

Horta as olfactory object

Of over 1,400 available aroma chemicals, this selection edits only those that a grown in this territory, in addition to some that are under specific research.

Image: Itineranttrader


CORINE understands a vineyard as a simplified zone which is designated the colour R230 G128 B000.

The introduction of airborne LiDAR technology would allow for the remote sensing of the land to a molecular degree.

Whilst agricultural smallholdings under 5 hectares are said to be almost non-existent in the next twenty years, the EU is focussing its subsidies on the support of such smallholders.

Horta takes the opposite approach: one 120,000 hectare farm that is monitored and organised to a molecular degree.

LiDAR footage: Carnegie Airborne Observatory

Vineyards: a molecular choreography

The Alqueva region is already supporting a facility for research into Medicinal and Aromatic Plants.

Because of the fine resolution with which Horta is organised, the rights to three distinct aromachemicals, shown here, can be bought and their growth choreographed within the same small area.