WORKac has long promoted urban farming. In 2008 at MoMA PS1, the New York architecture firm developed the Public Farm 1 installation, an elevated terrace overgrown with food-producing plants. So when Edible Schoolyard NYC, a branch of the program founded by Chez Panisse chef Alice Waters, asked WORKac to design its first ground-up building, it represented a dream project. The non-profit organization teaches kids to grow and prepare their own produce. “We’ve been looking at how food systems can shape cities for years,” says Amale Andraos, who heads WORKac with her partner, Dan Wood. Finally, here was an opportunity to put their ideas into real-world practice and, she notes, “transform the city, one school at a time.”
The 170-square-metre building anchors a 0.2‑hectare garden reclaimed from a former parking lot at Public School 216 in Brooklyn. The architects split the building into three distinct components: a polycarbonate and aluminum greenhouse; a kitchen classroom sheathed in fibre cement shingles; and a bright blue, rubber-clad systems wall that contains a tool shed, a cistern (which collects rainwater from the greenhouse/classroom’s sloped roof) and other functional components. “We wanted the structure to be part of the garden aesthetically, but also to express its performance and systems,” says Andraos.
The need for durability drove many of the material choices, but WORKac reinvented their application to dramatic effect. By increasing the shingles’ standard overlap, the partners created a denser motif of scales to render enormous pixelated flowers on the side of the building. To animate ordinary cabinetry in the kitchen classroom, they lacquered the fronts with a 13-colour gradient. And although they designed the infrastructure for the exterior garden, they largely left the planting pattern to the students. “The teachers and kids reinvent the garden every season,” says Andraos. “In the end, it’s about this negotiation between design and DIY.”
Already at work on a second Edible Schoolyard, in Harlem, the firm is developing a kit that could be rolled out at numerous other schools. In that way, the PS 216 project is the seed of an idea that may eventually flourish across New York.