The walls may be white, but the mission is undoubtedly green at GrowNYC’s Project Farmhouse.
Located at 76 East 13th Street and within walking distance of the Union Square Farmer’s Market, Project Farmhouse serves as the “one-stop shop” for sustainability in New York City. Designed as an events and education center, the 3,500-square-foot space is GrowNYC’s central location for community learning, discussion, and action. The project will offer free public programming and can be rented out for private events, with an assurance that the funds will be used for hands-on environmental education.
GrowNYC, New York City’s premiere environmental service and policy organization since 1975, and Hyatt selected Brooklyn-based ORE Design + Technology to design the space. Headed by architect Thomas Kosbau since 2009, ORE specializes in clean technology, industrial design, and sustainable architecture. It’s a small firm of only 5 people, but the ideas growing there are big. For Project Farmhouse, ORE had to work with several constraining parameters, including how to turn what essentially is the hotel’s basement into a safe and comfortable space.
“GrowNYC described their idea of what this space was supposed to be as, ‘a white box with attitude.’ But there’s a hotel sitting directly on top of us with its own power and plumbing systems already in place,” said Kosbau.
What ORE used in order to hide the unsightly mechanics is a series of thin, charcoal gray panels from Autex that project out from opposite walls towards the ceiling on an angle, resembling a zipper. The panels extend from the entrance down to the conference room at the opposite end of the Farmhouse, which renders an almost nave-like appearance inside the space, giving it an elongated sense of height and length. They also serve as lighting and sound baffles.
The “jewel case” of Project Farmhouse is the hydroponic wall. Filled with lush and verdant lettuces and vegetables, it acts as an emblem of Project Farmhouse’s mission of self-sufficient, sustainable agriculture. The stark white planters sit in stacked rows below specialized lighting, bringing a splash of color into the otherwise restrained pallet of the space. The size of the hydroponic wall was achieved by knocking out a gendered bathroom and creating a unisex one in its place directly adjacent to the wall.
Kosblau, a LEED consultant, said that while the building has not undergone LEED accreditation, he felt confident that it could achieve a Gold rating. The firm took special care to use environmentally-friendly materials and low-waste construction techniques. For example, in addition to the Autex sound and lighting baffles, the wood paneling in the conference room and bathroom was salvaged from a drowned Panamanian forest.
ORE and GrowNYC’s partnership began in 2006 with the pro-bono Fifth Street Slope community park, a sustainably built park in a low-income residential area. They continued their partnership in 2011 with the Riverpark, in which the firm used milk crates to create a 15,000-square-foot transportable farm. Currently, ORE and GrowNYC are partnering to develop GrowNYC’s Food Hub, an industrial-scale food distribution center that will make use of Kosbau’s previous work with algae as a renewable energy source.
Author: Anna Gibertini