Back in 2008, when WORKac created an installation at MoMA P.S.1 in Queens, NY—an urban farm planted in giant cardboard tubes within the museum’s courtyard—it caught the attention of a celebrity chef and a filmmaker on the opposite coast. Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters had begun the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley a decade before. When Waters later collaborated with movie producer and philanthropist John Lyons to bring the program to New York, WORKac seemed a perfect fit.
The architects designed their first Edible Schoolyard for a public elementary school in Brooklyn in 2014. Then-City Council speaker Christine Quinn had already set aside enough money to have at least one built in each of the five boroughs. (The city pays for construction and maintenance, while the nonprofit Edible Schoolyard NYC raises funds to pay for teachers, supplies, and programming.) Now a second version has just been completed at Public School 7 in Harlem. Since the goal of the program is to transform the eating habits of kids by integrating gardening and kitchen classes into the school day, neighborhoods with little public green space and access to healthy grocery stores were selected.
As they did with their Brooklyn project, WORKac created a greenhouse clad in colorful cementitious shingles that form a pixelated version of a flower pattern designed by Venturi Scott Brown. Adjacent to this bridgelike structure—which is built over a reinforced foundation and the existing one-story cafeteria—a green roof is used to grow garlic, beets, turnips, and a host of other vegetables. A garden on the lower level features painted troughs that serve as planters.
The greenhouse has become a gathering space for special events, including parent breakfasts, and its visibility has attracted neighbors to volunteer in the program. “As a project, it’s so rewarding because it’s really a typological invention,” says WORKac principal Dan Wood. “And, of course, everyone involved is so committed, compassionate, and creative. We’re impacting an urban community while transforming a school.”