The studio’s first session asks student teams to design a potential rooftop urban agriculture system, working within the limitations of the client, budget, and site. In this case, transitional housing at The Bowery Mission works as the client and one site, while student groups choose between Thread Collective’s own roof in Bushwick, Brooklyn and Industry City’s roof in Sunset Park, Brooklyn as their “companion” site. These two sites must work in unison to serve food demands for the Bowery Mission’s residents, as well as foster the participation of the local communities. Under the guidance of Bowery Mission’s Matt Krivich, the class decided on the economic potential of the sale of “Bowery Salsa,” which could serve as a financial venture to cover roof maintenance expenses or enhance community involvement through a bartering system.
Beyond the end goals of food production and community building, each group’s project takes on a life of its own. All projects take into account soil types and roof construction and loads, allowing some walkways for human access and leisure. Yet some go a step further, incorporating architectural features such as waterfalls, wind power turbines and greenhouses. Each group presents a layout of planters and plants for both roofs, but a couple of proposals include detailed calculations of potential salsa production as a result of crop distributions. While analyzing potential soil and plant types, one group decides to create four gardens with completely different ambiances, while another utilizes the Bowery roof as a seed harvesting center for its heavy production, companion roof in Brooklyn.
During the review, students were praised for their detailed analysis of energy and water systems, including the use of rainwater harvesting and renewable energy sources. Some reviewers were concerned about the level of development of drainage and stormwater management systems, as well as the weight of various architectural components. Many of these issues would be addressed as the design gets refined, but given the tight schedule of the class, designs were at their initial development stages.
The second 5-week studio session gives students the opportunity to work physically in the field and get hands-on experience in the construction, maintenance, and harvesting of urban farms. A series of visits to diverse urban farm modules, at various stages of development, will expose students to the many components of urban agriculture, building on the material presented in the first session. The students will assist in building, planting, growing, harvesting, and monitoring these crops, embracing the full complexity of these miniature ecosystems. Prominent NYC urban agriculture practitioners will assist the class with the real-life applications of the lessons learned in class, and complement that knowledge with project-specific issues and features.
By concentrating on both the design and construction realms of green roofs and farms, the Rooftop Agriculture Studio at Pratt packs a comprehensive guide to sustainable urban roofs into ten weeks of intensive study. While the students produced surprisingly cohesive designs in such a short first studio session, the difficulties inherent in the implementation of rural landscapes in an unaccommodating urban setting. But with future designers and planners taking it upon themselves to become educated in rooftop farms and their opportunities and constraints, expect an adaptation of codes and zoning regulations, and an explosion of urban crops in New York City.