Curating a Farm at P.S.1

Public Farm 1, designed by WORK Architecture Company, is a compelling argument for a new urban environment.

poster for

"Young Architects Program 2008" Exhibition

at MOMA PS1
in the Queens area
This event has ended - (2008-06-22 - 2008-09-22)

In Reviews by Hannah Brehm 2008-08-18 print

Photograph © Hannah Brehm
Against the backdrop of a clacking 7 train and the green glass façade of the Citicorp Building, nearly 100 cardboard circles rise out of the normally sterile concrete courtyard of P.S.1. These elevated tubular structures are filled with peppers, tomatoes, greens and herbs, organized in a descending slope toward a modestly sized irrigation system qua water feature in the center. Dispersed amongst the schoolyard gravel are several additional clusters of circles. Their functions alternate between planters and seating space for garden visitors. In an enclave to the right of the steps, there reside approximately 10 chickens that produce fresh eggs every morning and roam with uncharacteristic freedom, at least by today’s agricultural standards. If this picture conjures a vague caricature of utopia, on the one hand, you are correct, but for all of its chunky geometry and brightly colored structures, P.F.1 (Public Farm 1) is also an incredibly compelling argument for why we might consider a case for saving an urban environment that is quickly dissolving into dystopia.

Like the lofty Russian Constructivists or the renegade builders of the Drop City artists’ community, Amale Andraos and Dan Wood of the firm WORK Architectural Company (WORKac) have given visitors room to hope that there could indeed be a better future to come. It may seem credulous and nostalgic to revive this theme as an architect (or a writer, for that matter), but perhaps P.F.1 can function as a reminder that modernity was not a total failure. From the onset, modernism has always been firmly wed to the project of new vision. Whether it has been articulated in exactly those words or not, it is the concept that drove us through the 20th century and into the 21st. Creating a work of art to facilitate change may not have always been the impetus, but in many cases it was the result. For the purpose of understanding the validity and success of P.F.1, two of the most important historical precedents can be found at seemingly disparate poles.

Photograph © Hannah Brehm

Though they fell into the service of an oppressive state, the Russian Constructivists conceived and executed multifaceted machines and structures designed to facilitate the needs of an egalitarian and industrial future. This is not to say that P.F.1 demonstrates any indication of agitprop, worker’s rights, or shiny, angular, metallic fantasies. It does, however, hold on to the idea of the multipurpose structure engineered for productivity. Where WORKac eschews the aesthetic of the Constructivists, it embraces another utopian project: the 1960s Colorado collective, Drop City. Through the use of recycled materials, and the aim of self-sustainability, P.F.1 has taken root in the proverbial concrete jungle, a metaphorical wilderness inhabited by an ever-growing number of people who have raised their voices and votes to protest against the destructive forces of industrial agriculture. Much like the inhabitants of Drop City dreamed of a minimally invasive human footprint and a free and open community, P.F.1 provides a new platform upon which this dream may be realized.

Photograph © Hannah Brehm

The resulting urban farm is simpler and less ideological, yet further realized than Vladmir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International. It is equally as resourceful as the makeshift dodecahedron yurts of Drop City, perhaps creating an ideal amalgam of these two historical precedents. The project is also based on Rem Koolhaas’s manifesto of urban hybridity, Delirious New York, and though it has now arrived once more into the forefront of public concern thirty years and one devastating food crisis later, this theory serves as the basis for P.F.1’s timely and potent blend of the old avant-garde spirit with the growing rhetoric of sustainability.

WORKac’s P.F.1 is the bridge between the aforementioned distant poles of history and culture. It has demonstrated that completely recyclable, public ecosystems are an entirely viable, not to mention vital, element of cultivating a new, less exploitative future. Rather than capitulating to institutionalization and a destructive ecological regime, P.F.1 has risen from the dirt of Long Island City to take root in a schoolyard where the possibility of a new future is still alive.

Hannah Brehm

Hannah Brehm. Hannah is a recovering academic. She spent three years on the west coast at the University of California, Davis, the University of British Columbia, and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, immersing herself in the history of art. She now resides in Brooklyn, and currently works as a researcher for rare and collectible art and design books. But when she returns home every day she wonders how she can reconcile this with the poster of Lenin that hangs on the wall beside her desk. Her highest aspirations are to be a writer and a thinker, and to never lose hope that ideas are the most valuable currency. » See other writings

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