Like the tractor, one of the most influential agricultural inventions is the ‘modern’ grain-elevator. Despite varying in physical form/construction these structures would generally all house the mechanisms to receive, weigh, grade, separate, store, clean, and redistribute bio-material. The consolidation of these various functions in one efficient place forever changed farms and agriculture by re-wiring the method in which bio-material was moved. Any construction or technical changes that would increase efficiency or scale immediately affected the surrounding farming enterprises in an elevator’s catchment area.
Before, the technology of elevators allowed them to serve a greater catchment area (and thus contributed to larger consolidated farms) these ‘sentinels’ defined an era in agriculture and agrarian settlement, most notably in the towns where many elevators were erected.
Originally the location of these structures was based on a delicate balance between a large enough volume of bio-material to warrant a rail line and a given distance a farmer could travel, today’s elevators can reach mega sizes that best fit larger farm operations.
On a design level, these hybrid-machine-buildings once dubbed ‘Prairie Sentinels’ were also very influential, inspiring an entire generation of designers interested in exploring a functional/engineering aesthetic.
In our current ‘age of crisis’ (for example crisis in agriculture, food security, and ecology) one might wonder what the new ‘elevator’/silo would do, how it would work, and subsequently what impacts that would have on design professions. Might the new elevator trigger a new ‘modernism’?
Some excellent resources on grain elevators can be found on a variety of Canadian Heritage Websites:
National Film Board (video)