Design Takes Root - Design Bureau

Thread Collective

Thread Collective

Design Takes Root

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

The ONE Prize, a design competition organized by ecological design group Terreform 1, challenged architects and design industry professionals from all backgrounds to reinvent the American lawn by retrofitting facilities to encourage urban agriculture and build community. Gita Nandan and Elliott Maltby, principals of Brooklyn-based architecture firm Thread Collective, tied for top honors with their down-to-earth proposal for repurposing poorly maintained yards surrounding New York City public housing projects into urban farm plots.

Their winning entry entitled NORC Farms, details how planting gardens in complexes with a high concentration of older adults—known as Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or “NORCs”—would solve a number of problems. The gardens would revive the underused lawns and yield produce that neighborhood grocery stores largely lack. NORC Farms would also provide space for more social interaction and access to healthier food for residents. At the same time, gardening activities would keep older residents active and promote the civic engagement of an oft-overlooked social group. “The elderly population is doubling by 2050,” Nandan says. “We think it’s probably one of the most important groups to start thinking about designing for.”

Nandan and Maltby are no strangers to social design or urban agriculture. Through Thread Collective, they designed the Spier Contemporary, the first built element of Southbank, an arts center in South Africa, and are working on a sustainable community center for an urban farm in Brooklyn. Although sustainability is a common thread running throughout their work, including NORC Farms, it’s more than a ride on a popular bandwagon. “One thing we were thinking a lot about in terms of urban agriculture in New York City was how to have longevity beyond this time of passionate interest,” Maltby says.

Text by Jamie Hartford, a writer based in Oregon.

Illustrations by Luke Williams


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