A Gathering Spot and Emergency Resource for New York's Community Gardens

In a community garden in the Bronx, a structure will serve as a shelter for recreation, and as a sustainable power source in an emergency.
A sustainable modular shelter for a Bronx community garden.
Designed by TEN Arquitectos, this casita will be built in the Willis Avenue Community Garden in the Bronx. The idea is that it will serve as a model to be adapted for community gardens elsewhere in New York City. Rendering courtesy of TEN Arquitectos.

What if a simple modular structure could serve not only as a neighborhood gathering spot in New York’s community gardens but also as a source of power, energy, and solace in an emergency?

That’s the idea behind a project spearheaded by the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) and TEN Arquitectos. The NYRP and TEN have teamed with the nonprofit Urban Air Foundation to develop a “kit of parts” for a modular outdoor shed that could be built in each of the 52 community gardens that the NYRP owns and maintains throughout New York City.

The first of these “casitas”—the term is Spanish for “small house”—will be erected in the Willis Avenue Community Garden in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx on May 31. At a later date, the casita will be outfitted with WiFi and solar panels so it can serve as a resource in the event of a crisis or natural disaster, such as a hurricane.

“TEN’s approach is a particularly sensitive and thoughtful response to the high-need communities we serve,” says Deborah Marton, NYRP’s 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 WiFi and phone-charging stations to communities that too often lack access to services, especially in times of great need.”

In the absence of an emergency, the casita will serve as a performance stage, food-prep station, and shaded gathering spot. TEN Arquitectos, which has offices in Manhattan and Mexico City, designed a scalable construction kit that includes a roof for shade and weather protection that can support the weight of photovoltaic panels; walls for vertical gardening and climate control; and a horizontal surface for recreation, food preparation, and dining. The parts are all available at the Home Depot and other big-box home-improvement retailers, making them relatively simple to build and maintain.

“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 WiFi and renewable energy systems,” said Stephen Rizzo of the Urban Air Foundation.

Other partners collaborating on the project include Buro Happold, an engineering consulting firm, and the Home Depot. A prototype of the casita is on display at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in conjunction with “Beyond the Supersquare,” an exhibition that explores the influence of modern Latin American urban centers on contemporary art.

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