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WORKac Unveils Edible Schoolyard in Brooklyn

The New York City firm transforms a former parking lot into an urban garden and teaching space for an elementary school.

By Laura Mirviss
November 15, 2013
Photo © Architectural Record

A public elementary school in New York City is an odd place to come across an abundance of fine, farm-fresh dining options—until now. At P.S. 216, a pre-K to 5th grade school in working class Gravesend, Brooklyn, a team of architects has transformed a parking lot into a verdant garden, greenhouse, and interactive culinary classroom where students learn to grow and cook their own fruit, vegetables, and herbs.

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Earlier this week, the architects at WORKac, a firm based in New York City, offered a preview of the half-acre indoor and outdoor teaching space, which officially opens next month. Dubbed the Edible Schoolyard, the project consists of a half-acre garden and a standalone building with three clearly defined volumes meant to articulate the various activities going on inside. “The building itself is a teaching tool,” says WORKac principal Dan Wood.

Students enter the building through the first volume, which is painted bright blue to remind students that rainwater is collected and harvested in a 1,550-gallon water tank inside. The middle volume, a 1,075-square-foot kitchen classroom and office, is clad in fiber cement shingles painted to look like giant flowers punctured with porthole windows at the center. At the end, a 763-square-foot translucent greenhouse, built out of polycarbonate and aluminum, looks out to the garden beyond. “We wanted to connect the building to the garden very literally,” says WORKac principal Amale Andraos, adding that the graphic flower pattern is inspired by the facade panels designed by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates for the Best Products Showroom in the 1970s.

Students take four classes in the Edible Schoolyard each month and split their time between the garden and kitchen classroom, where all of the equipment is residential grade to create the feel of a cooking space at home. The lush garden is anchored with a 50-square-foot open-air pavilion where students gather at the beginning of each class to learn about the lesson of the day. They spend the rest of the period gardening outside, except on rainy days, when they work in a semi-circular station with a plastic cover.

In 2009, Edible Schoolyard, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that teaches children to grow and cook their own food, was looking to expand to New York City and approached WORKac about designing a structure on the grounds of a local elementary school. The organization had seen WORKac’s temporary installation—Public Farm 1, a sculptural arrangement of cardboard tubes filled with soil and plants—at MoMA P.S.1 in the summer of 2008. Edible Schoolyard felt the firm understood the challenges of producing well-designed, but cost efficient growing spaces in an urban context, and the P.S. 216 project broke ground in 2010.

Construction is currently under way on WORKac’s second Edible Schoolyard project, on the grounds of P.S. 7 in East Harlem, where the architects are retrofitting a classroom and inserting gardens on the roof of the cafeteria and in the courtyard. Edible Schoolyard says it has plans to expand to all five boroughs of New York City, though the locations of future projects have not been announced.

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