A few days ago I visited the Manhattan School for Children (PS 333, K-8) on 93rd & Amsterdam to see their rooftop greenhouse. It was a spectacular and magical space comprised of stations with crazy algae growing in tanks, beautiful vertical plants and floating herbs. In speaking with the director Laurie Schoeman of New York Sunworks, who both built and developed the space, she explained to me that this space was created as a new way for teachers to take their science curriculum and use the space to teach students by working with hydroponics to grow food and learn.
The space we visited was a greenhouse that was approximately 1,600 SF which was explained to us could provide about 8,000 lbs of vegetables per year which goes directly to the cafeteria. Spectacular! The greenhouse also has an extensive science curriculum which addresses topics in biology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences, as well as the sustainable living environment. Students focus on water resource management, climate change, biodiversity, conservation, contamination, pollution, waste management, efficient land/rooftop use, food production and nutrition—all topics to be used for classroom discussion.
Laurie Schoeman also explained to us that New York Sunworks in cooperation with the School Construction Authority (SCA) are now working on about 20 additional projects with SCA, mostly retrofits to existing schools. New York Sunworks essentially helps on anything from to retrofitting/designing the space architecturally to planning teaching lessons all the way to getting the classroom up and running.
As an architect, I immediately found this idea of teaching space where kids grow what they eat in the lunch room cafeteria, learn and understand what they are growing and physically watch it grow extremely exciting. A bonus to all of this was that all it was taking place on a rooftop of a tall building in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. The other part that struck me as interesting was the idea of teaching students about sustainability and accountability for your impact on the environment.
Currently there is a huge shift in educators thinking about hands on teaching for the sciences as well as how to teach sustainability. There are several projects in design and under construction in Kliment Halsband Architect’s office (my firm) that are looking at this new way of teaching and how a space can help to facilitate this type of teaching. Hopefully soon I will be able to share with you some of these rooftop teaching spaces. And alike, hopefully these types of projects and spaces will only encourage and inspire more schools throughout the country to adopt similar approaches to teaching.