P.S. Farm? PS1's Public Farm 1 Is Now Open for Picking

An urban farm with cylinders growing food outside of an art gallery.

xmascarol / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This summer, PS1's Saturday afternoon parties will have a working farm with tomatoes, lettuce, herbs, and, yes, egg laying chickens! Chickens courtesy of the Queens County Farm Museum's Michael Grady Robertson.

Public Farm 1—or "PF 1"— was the Young Architect Program (PS 1's YAP) winning project this year, and last night, MOMA members and press were welcomed to the unveiling of PS1's summer 2008 courtyard installation, a vertical farm structure which is the design and creation of WORK Architecture. A Lower East Side firm run by the young and enthusiastic husband-and-wife team, Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, WORK beat out their competitors with the creativity and fun of their very green design.

With perhaps a bit of exhaustion in their attractive faces, Andraos and Wood told us that a lot of the work came to fruition only in the last few days. The chicken coop, for example, was a well kept secret, kept even from PS1's Director Alanna Heiss. The idea in part, as in previous years, was to create an "urban beach." Winning designs in the past have done this with tents, canopies, and water. (Shade and water are especially important for dancing revelers on humid summer Saturdays.) But what is really unique about this installation is that WORK has truly created an urban vertical farm in Queens.

Cylinders that hold plants at an urban art space.

Deanna / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

What it looks like: PF1 looks something like a "floating carpet" made up of slanted rows of large cardboard planter tubes sweeping high above the gravel courtyard. The planting tubes are constructed in circular daisy patterns, with a "picking hole" inside each grouping. At the points where the rows of planting tubes are only a few feet out of reach, visitors can use a ladder to rise up out of the picking holes and pick the plants growing in the tubes around them. For the outer points at which the tubes are much further from the ground, there is a genie to lift the pickers up. In the center of the farm there lies a refreshing wading pool. The tubes are labeled from below so you can see what's growing up there, e.g., Collard greens are at picking-with-a-ladder height, while herbs and strawberries are located lower down in the center. The plants are watered by a drip rainwater irrigation system, and the cistern is located in the chicken coop. (Did I mention the chicken coop?). The chickens lay Â1⁄2 a dozen eggs a day. Some of the eggs are collected for eating, and some of them have hatched some adorable two week old chicks! There are no roosters per NY legislation. The entire installation is powered by 16 solar panels —so it is entirely off grid. The solar panels will also power a juicing station, though unfortunately, it was not yet working last night.

People sitting in circular chairs around cylindrical pots at an urban farm.

xmascarol / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Design and Construction: The project is all about the natural world: the form of the human-made structures were all taken from nature, and there are 51 types of plants. But it's also, Ms. Andraos told us, all about collaboration. Up to 60 people, in groups of 20 to 30, would work on the farm's construction in one day. The architects combined their architectural knowledge from working in England, Japan, and Beirut, and also got a lot of help from other organizations. The plantings were done in part through a collaboration with the Horticultural Society of New York's Greenhouse program on Rikers Island, which allowed ex-offenders to work on the farm. (And I am told that some of the ex-offenders who worked on the planting remarked that they were looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labor.)

There were challenging times during construction, especially during the heat wave and when it rained. Rain is great for plants, but tough for construction, especially for construction with paper. There was no structural modeling for paper, so they had to find a company that could do it. They tried a couple before finding LERA's excellent modeling team, who pushed the structural properties of cardboard to its limit. And yes, the paper tubes are coated in a polyurethane lacquer. The tubes are held together with plywood 2x4s bolted with 7,000 bolts—each one hand tightened. If you lined up all the paper tubes, the architects proudly told us, the resulting structure would be twice as high as the nearby Citi tower. The team used "Gaia soil." Gaia soil, developed by Dr. Paul Mankiewicz of the Gaia Institute, is lighter than normal soil and is made in part from recycled styrofoam. The pots are irrigated by underground pipes that connect rainwater from the roof from the cistern directly to the roots.

The WORK architects thanked PS1 for the opportunity. Ms. Andraos remarked, "It is "very rare to be able to build ideas uncompromised . . . we can't believe they left us alone for so long."

Cylinders with arms full of plants in red pots.

vipnyc / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

During the architects' tour of their farm, Mr. Wood, looking like a modern day Jack in the Beanstalk, donned a dark green "picking skirt," a type of apron Wood and Andraos had constructed, with several deep pockets for produce, and climbed the picking ladder. (Of the picking skirts, Ms. Andraos remarked with glee "This is why we won, by the way.") In addition to picking produce, visitors can watch videos of farm animals (all powered by solar) through peepholes in the supporting columns. Non-farm related activities include recharging your phone at the solar-powered cell phone charging station (to stay connected with the friend you can't find because she's climbed a picking ladder).

The produce and eggs will be used in the restaurant at PS1, as well as sold to the public at the green market held in front of the museum each Saturday this summer. Produce these days, travels an average of 3,000 miles, but "we are trying," said Mr. Wood proudly, "to reduce that 300 feet."

PF1 connects outside and inside, ecology and urbanism. If you are in New York this summer, come visit PF1 to dance and forage for veggies! PF1 will remain at PS1 through September. And of course, the installation will be recycled afterwards.