Riverpark restaurant owners Tom Colicchio, Sisha Ortuzar, and Scarlet Shore Clifton from Alexandria Real Estate (owner of the site)  approached ORE with the challenge of creating a farm at 29th St. and 1st Ave. in Manhattan to provide their kitchen with fresh produce not readily available in the city.

It was the spring of 2010 and New York’s real estate industry was feeling the full impact of the recession.

Approximately 700 large building sites had stalled mid construction creating an instant urban blight.  Luckily, there were clients who saw an opportunity.

A restaurant owned by Tom Collichio, named Riverpark was the ground level tenant in tower one of a complex.  The 2nd tower’s site, shown in green  had been put on indefinite hold and the site was sitting vacant.  Riverpark’s team saw opportunity for this area to become a farm to directly supply their cooking needs with locally grown vegetables, fruits and herbs.

Existing Site Before Farm

The issue of the site was not just the logistics of creating a farm in the center of Manhattan, figuring out what happens when this construction site was reactivated.  Rather than drop soil and begin planting a project that would need to be thrown away once the economy restarted, we convinced the client to create a mobile farm.

After a search for an off-the-shelf, ergonomic, container with adequate soil depth we decided to convert milkcrates into planters.

The next step was convincing our restaurant client that they could grow all the produce to their hearts desire in the boxes that pile up outside of their service entrance.

We planted a mock-up on our office roof in Dumbo and grew what would be most challenging – watermelon, 6 foot high tomato and okra plants.  The client was convinced and a 3,000 milkcrate farm was born.

The true test of mobility came when Hurricane Irene made landfall in New York one week before the official project opening.  ORE’s office with a team of 10 volunteers moved the entire farm of 3,000 full-grown plants into the corporate lobby of tower 1 by hand.  It took just under 4 hours.  The instant farm in a corporate lobby was so striking, we honestly wished the farm could have stayed there.

The most valuable lesson learned through this project was the power of design scalability using standardized modules.  After the project was completed We decided to create open source guides and how-to videos which we posted on YouTube.  We were then contacted and agreed to mentor Groups ranging from Ilewa combating food spoilage deserts in Lagos Nigeria, the 3 x 3 project feeding homeless veterans in Virginia, offsetting the urban heat island effect Tokyo’s rooftops, training young urban farmers in North Philadelphia and urban blight with local food production in Toronto with the Bowery Project

Client: Tom Colicchio’s Riverpark, Alexandria Center
Program: Modular Urban Farm and Dining Area
Location: New York, NY
Size: 15,000 sf.
Status: Completed 2011
Consultants: GrowNYC, Wilklow Orchards
Awards: Architizer A+ Award, New York Municipal Art Society “Livable City Award”, Financial Times/Citigroup
“Ingenuity Award” Finalist