Wild Project is a community theater and production company in the heart of the East Village. With its emphasis on local, up-and-coming artists and performers, the group hosts plays, films, and art exhibits. The 89-seat venue used to be a small manufacturing plant, and in keeping with its mission as a sustainable community-oriented business (and budget constraints), the theater capitalizes on pre-existing conditions and materials to present refurbished interiors that give hints to the site’s history. Architects Thread Collective have kept architectural features from the original building, such as the brick and concrete masonry walls, closely spaced wood roof joists and bracing, and three gable-pitched frosted glass skylights.
A mechanized shading system helps achieve proper light quality for a variety of theater and film events, and some of the theater’s energy needs are met by a row of photovoltaic panels on the South end of the roof. Water efficient fixtures and bamboo clad furnishings enhance the project’s overall sustainability. Energy efficient heating and cooling systems reduce the solar panels’ load. Natural light penetrates the building’s storefront art gallery, where the original garage door is replaced by a transparent, thermally-broken garage door, allowing The Wild Project to connect visually to the East Village community, as passersby on 3rd Street get a glimpse of the theater’s daily activities.
Wild Project Theater continues its East Village narrative on the roof, where landscape design and green roof consultants Alive Structures has constructed a lush roof garden with myriad of ground covers ranging from simple sedums to small cacti. This serene landscape reflects the neighborhood’s many community gardens, yet its inaccessibility to the public transforms it into a facsimile of a public garden, a floral stage of sorts.
But while this roof lacks public access, it delivers much needed energy and stormwater management improvements. Poured onto a system of interlocking drainage mats by Elevated Living Technologies, the 4″ thick lightweight soil medium bed provides a thin and cheap extensive green roof to help drainage and insulation for the building below. According to Alive Structures’ website, a recent study by the Center for Climate Systems Research has shown that a typical extensive green roof such as this can save $4.50 per square roof in energy loss each year over a typical black tar roof.
In addition to its insulating capabilities, the sustainably resourced ELT interlocking mat system is made from High Density Polyethylene that can be fully melted when damaged, and recycled into brand new mats. However, the eco-friendly plastic is greatly resistant to UV radiation and chemicals found in fertilizer. On top of that, the soil and roof construction only weigh 30 pounds per square foot, ensuring a long lifespan with few replacement and maintenance issues.
Low maintenance is the key for Wild Project’s weather-resistant roof vegetation as well; no watering is needed except in the case of extreme drought. Small but vibrant, low growing wildflowers and sedums like Green and Gold, Wild Columbine, Blue Eyed Grass, Wild Ginger, Chives, Native Geranium, and native asters are interspersed between reclaimed wood decking, paving stones and prickly pear cacti. Because of mixed light conditions in this low lying building with southern exposure and shade to the East and West, many native plants that struggle on other roofs have thrived there. While some invasive species such as Sedum Acre fly in from surrounding gardens and can take over parts of the roof, the Alive Structures crew often makes the rounds to their projects for necessary weeding. Moreover, some of these invasive species are not harmful to others, and can add to the colorful mosaic.
During our visit, an especially bright bouquet of Dianthus had appeared near one of the skylights. Rather than pluck it out, we admired its teeming pink volume and how it added a necessary pop of color to a generally green stretch of garden. Just as community performers and artists interact with neighborhood residents at ground level to reinterpret the visible history of a reclaimed space, these seedlings interact with the original design’s flora to redefine the East Village community garden, and hopefully the future of roof spaces in the neighborhood and New York City.
photos © Leonel Lima Ponce for Inhabitat, unless noted