: This is the first built from scratch, and the first in this climate. Chez Panisse is very casual. Alice [Waters] understood New York is more design-conscious. In New York, to get the vision going you have to have so much more money, so much more political support, that you can’t say we will build a ramada one year and another piece the next year. At the same time, she didn’t want to lose what they had there.
We went out to Berkeley and made a list of what we thought were the most important elements of the Edible Schoolyard there. The ramada is central to the mission; that’s why it got built first. We took pictures inside the kitchen classroom and tried to channel some of the iconic elements — while making it new, adapting it for the New York climate and adding our personal touch.
We kept the checkered tablecloths and the cubbies. These are the same clocks they have there. Alice said she thinks this project takes Edible Schoolyard to the next level and gives it more legitimacy. It is not this semi-ad-hoc or organic project, but something that can be changed.
: It sounds like a prototype.
: That’s the other thing about New York: you can’t just focus on one school. There’s political pressure: what about all the other schools? This is now an academy model, and [City Council President] Christine Quinn has committed that if we do this one she’ll get the money for the other four boroughs. Each borough will have one main classroom, and other schools will come there for training and have their own little gardens. P.S. 216 will have a staff of five: two kitchen staff, two garden staff and one manager. Those people will be available to advise the other schools.
: I am sure you have read some of the critiques of the Edible Schoolyard.
]. Alice is always open to critique because for her it is the one perfect tomato. And not everyone can have the perfect tomato. That can come off the wrong way. But why not have everyone have the best? My father is the head of the Clinton HIV/AIDS program and that is their philosophy, too: give the poorest people the best drugs.
We ran up a little bit against that critique as well. It is high design; you could do it much cheaper, obviously. But by exposing people to good design, you are engaging their curiosity, developing their sense of space and aesthetics, and really making them think. For us it is not just about cooking and eating good food but a demonstration project, like PS1 was, for how you can utilize sustainable systems. That’s what all these blue tubes are on the back, the sustainable infrastructure. AL
: Designers want to work with food because they see that food is a language that more people understand and like. What’s the value added of the design? DW
: The building can function off grid in the middle of the city. It is not only producing food but it is also producing its own power and collecting its own rainwater. We are going to try running the rainwater pipes through the compost to provide hot water, which hasn’t been done much before. We are going to try to use solar heating or a biomass burner to heat the space.
We are also utilizing design specifically to adapt Edible Schoolyard to the New York City climate. We also have a space problem in New York. This is less than half the size of Berkeley, maybe a third. What we discovered working with our network from PS1 was you have to extend the growing season. Kids are in school in the winter and late fall and early spring when you can’t grow outdoors.
Everyone pointed us toward this guy Eliot Coleman
. He is able to grow fresh vegetables in all four seasons in Maine through a system of movable greenhouses. You are planting in the soil and just heating it enough to be able to grow cold-weather crops all through the winter. The greenhouse is on tracks so in summer you move it away, plow under the plants you have grown in the winter, and plant an entirely new crop on the same ground. Also a very rich growing medium.
He just pushes the things to one side because he has a lot of space. We don’t have a lot of space so the whole shape of the building is designed around this very large mobile greenhouse. In the winter it is this growing oasis; you are still growing in the ground. Then in summer the whole thing slides over the roof of the kitchen classroom. This also creates a new tradition. When the weather starts to get warm in the spring, the kids get together and push the greenhouse out of the way. I feel like design is creating something interesting, dynamic and different but also addressing a very practical issue. Concept for Edible Schoolyard New York's seasonal mobile greenhouse
: If it is built elsewhere will it essentially be the same building? That would make it go more quickly through the bureaucracy, right? DW
: This one will be expensive, but the next ones will be cheaper. This one will be more privately funded, but the city will be able to pay for the other ones. We are looking to prefabricate elements to save time and money and also to cut down on the bureaucracy and time on site. But it has been going very smoothly at P.S. 216.
: What are the limits you see to how much design can do in the world-saving or food-saving mode? Have you seen projects where design is really an appliqué? DW
: First, there are the stacked farms, which can’t work without a ton of energy or some kind of logical locale. Dubai or Tokyo could be interesting to try them out. Tokyo because it is on an island, not much land, a lot of people. Dubai, you can’t grow on the ground anyway. But in the U.S. we are a food exporter so I feel it is a solution for a question nobody asked.
We have an idea we call “rurbalization.” There is a famous diagram by Ebenezer Howard of Town and Country. The Town is polluted but the Country is boring, no social life, very poor. He asked, The People, Where Would They Go? We took that diagram and translated it to today, to the City, which is doing pretty well, and the Countryside which is doing badly because industrial farming is bad for the food system and bad for the environment. Town-Country has become the suburbs, the worst of both worlds. The idea is to go back before there was Town-Country and eliminate the suburbs. Have cities that become more local, communal, collaborative and green. Reorganize what used to be the suburbs and the rural into a better food system. We made a movie exploring this idea called New Ark
. We chose New Jersey as our example, which seems like the suburbs but it is very dense, there’s all that transportation, and still it is very green. WORKac's adaptation of Ebenezer Howard's diagram mapping the pros and cons of different living environments AL
: Looking around at your models there is a certain back-to-the-1970s look about things, which makes me think about the Ford Foundation. Many people love the Ford Foundation but of course that landscape is totally unsustainable. How do you turn that into a good landscape? DW
: All the 1970s gardens have roofs! We were commissioned to design a skyscraper for the future by the Alliance for Downtown New York as part of ARO’s master plan for Greenwich South
. The site was in shadow from all these other buildings, so we cantilevered it out over West Street so that everyone has a roof and can get some sunlight. It is a spiraling set of volumes with ecosystems on the roof and a central core of environmental services called the “Plug Out.
” "Plug Out" building concept designed for Architectural Research Office's master plan for Greenwich South in Manhattan, a project commissioned by the Alliance for Downtown New York
We were really influenced by Michael Pollan, especially the chapter on Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm
. The farm is a good metaphor for the city, because it is a natural environment in one sense but it is also completely manmade. If the stewardship is good enough, the impact of man can make the land more productive and more sustainable than it would be on its own. By creating an ecosystem man’s impact can help land be better. There must be a way to do that with a city. You use all the people and all the buildings, foodways from the restaurants, the sewer system that’s already here, all the rain, all the rooftops to make the city work like a farm.