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NYRP, Urban Air, TEN Arquitectos and Buro Happold Create Modular Casita to Turn South Bronx…

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NYRP, Urban Air, TEN Arquitectos and Buro Happold Create Modular Casita to Turn South Bronx Garden into Sustainable, Off-the-Grid Outdoor Community Center

New, green infrastructure to enhance environmental and social resilience in Mott Haven green space

NEW YORK, NY, May 2014 - New York Restoration Project (NYRP), Urban Air Foundation, TEN Arquitectos and Buro Happold partnered to create a sustainable approach to fortifying NYRP community gardens against extreme storms, as climate change increasingly impacts life in New York City. In response to former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposition for increasing resilience in infrastructure citywide, the collaborative group developed a “kit of parts” for a modular outdoor shed structure that can be built at each of NYRP’s 52 community gardens of varying sizes, locations and functionalities. The first kit of parts construction will replace an existing casita at NYRP’s Willis Avenue Community Garden in Mott Haven, in the South Bronx, as part of an overall garden renovation to shore up environmental and social resilience. At a later phase, the casita will be outfitted with Wi-Fi and green technologies such as solar panels to provide access to light, electricity and online communications—convenient amenities that not only enhance everyday functions, but also turn the garden into a center for community preparedness in times of crisis should the neighborhood be forced to go “off the grid” after a major storm.

“TEN’s approach is a particularly sensitive and thoughtful response to the high-need communities we serve," said Deborah Marton, NYRP Executive Director. “Their adaptable design will allow us to create a casita in the South Bronx or a gazebo in Central Brooklyn, and allows us to provide extremely useful amenities like free Wi-Fi and phone charging stations  to communities that too often lack access to services, especially in times of great need."

NYRP’s goal to fully integrate the local community is apparent throughout the design process, from ideation to construction. To best serve local residents’ cultural and social needs, NYRP’s Capital and Community Engagement teams led community sessions seeking feedback on the design of the casita and overall garden renovation. The desire for a casita that functions as a performance stage, a food prep station, a gathering spot, and a shade area, is translated into the casita’s design. As a response, TEN Arquitectos, designed a scalable construction kit that includes the following parts:

a roof to provide shade and weather protection, collect water, and support photovoltaic solar panels;
walls for climate control, vertical gardening, storage, and presentation space;
a horizontal surface for games, dining, and food preparation;
and a platform to provide access, storage, and a space for gathering.

The design is the first of its kind for an urban garden structure: the proportions are scalable; its building components are cost-efficient and widely accessible; and construction can be completed within a relatively short period of time. The kit of parts acts like a set of Lego pieces, building components measured, arranged and constructed based on a site’s needs and parameters. All parts, with exception to the steel connectors, are standard materials available at a local home improvement retailer. For this project, The Home Depot will generously donate the pre-cut materials needed to build the structure, as well as a financial donation, matched by long-standing partner, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, whose roots are in the New York Metro Area. On Saturday, May 31st, local residents will take part in the completion of the casita, working side-by-side architects, NYRP and volunteers from The Home Depot.

When built, the casita will be a model for outdoor urban architecture. The off-the-grid features to be added to its design will further modernize the traditional sense of a casita. Conventionally, a casita, or “little house” in Spanish, is a one-story wood frame shed structure popular in gardens for social gatherings in Puerto Rico. On a typical day, a casita in the garden is a meeting area in the shade, a food prep station, a performance stage for a quinceañera, and so on. However, should New York City experience another large-scale storm, locals can also find refuge at the newly-built casita, where they can access essentials like water, light, and electricity, and restore communications by charging their cell phones and connecting to Wi-Fi. The casita will help minimize the debilitating results of natural disasters by enhancing the community’s ability to function and reconnect with each other in times of need.

The Willis Avenue Community Garden plays a crucial role as a community asset that cultivates environmental and social resilience. Once a vacant lot, the 9,063-square-foot Willis Avenue Community Garden is today a thriving cultural hub in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx. The primarily Hispanic residents of this community use the space as a multi-purpose resource. It is a place where locals come together and play dominos; a gathering area for the neighborhood church; an urban farm in the middle of a “food desert”; and a popular post-Puerto Rican Day Parade destination, where guests dance, cook, eat, and celebrate their roots.

“The kit of parts will be a way to reactivate community gardens in New York City and beyond as usable green spaces for the public and sustainable, resilient community gathering points when they are set up with Wi-Fi and renewable energy systems,” said Stephen Rizzo of Urban Air Foundation. “The partnership between the Urban Air Foundation, NYRP, TEN Aquitectos, Buro Happold demonstrates the impact that groups of like-minded individuals can have on our communities.”

NYRP owns and maintains 52 community gardens, mostly concentrated in the city’s highest-need neighborhoods, namely Northern Manhattan, Central Brooklyn and the South Bronx, where community members are ethnically, socially and economically diverse. The design and construction of a kit of parts for a modern-day garden casita serves as a model for other community groups operating in open spaces across the city and beyond. It demonstrates how even projects of modest scale and budget can contribute to our city’s social and environmental resilience. Altogether, the renovation in and out of the casita at the Willis Avenue Community Garden will strengthen community ties in times of dysfunction, while encouraging a healthy community lifestyle. A prototype of the casita will be highlighted at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in May, running parallel to the exhibit “Beyond the Supersquare,” which explores the evolution of Latin American urban centers since the mid-twentieth century.

About New York Restoration Project (NYRP)

Founded by Bette Midler in 1995, NYRP is a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming open space in under-resourced communities to create a greener, more sustainable New York City. Unlike traditional conservancies that care for a specific place, NYRP is the only New York City conservancy that works citywide, bringing private resources to spaces that lack adequate municipal support. NYRP is also the leading private partner of the City of New York in MillionTreesNYC – an initiative to plant and care for one million new trees throughout New York City’s five boroughs. To learn more, please visit http://www.nyrp.org.

About TEN Arquitectos

TEN Arquitectos is dedicated to the creation and research of Architecture and Design. Founded in Mexico City by Enrique Norten in 1986, under his leadership and vision, the firm reached international stature when it opened a New York office in 2003. Since then, TEN Arquitectos has grown to over 70 members, working on a diverse array of award winning and acclaimed architectural projects, ranging from single-family and large scale residential, hospitality, institutional and cultural buildings; to urban design master plans and redevelopment projects. TEN is known for using a contemporary architectural language which unites the aspirations of the modern world with the particular culture and environment where their projects are built, often creating new iconic structures that highlight and complement the existing historical fabric.

About Urban Air Foundation (UAF)

The Urban Air Foundation is an Action Tank formed to promote high-density in urban spaces. UAF is focused on using the real estate community’s knowledge base in order to impact positive change. We support action items that help achieve the goals of reducing urban air pollution and supporting the notion that sustainable design must be accompanied by sustainable planning. Please visit our website at http://www.urbanair.org to find out more about our work.

About Buro Happold

Buro Happold is a global multidisciplinary engineering firm at the leading edge of sustainable design for the built environment. Founded in 1976, Buro Happold is committed to integrated sustainability objectives that meet and exceed expectations and ensure a more economically and socially responsible environment. As a recognized industry leader, Buro Happold has completed projects such as Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab, which has set the highest possible sustainability goals and achieved the Living Building Challenge Certification; the LEED Platinum Genzyme Headquarters in Cambridge, MA, one of the world’s most environmentally responsible office buildings; and St. Ann’s Warehouse, a sensitive historic preservation project in Brooklyn Bridge Park for a local organization.

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