New York, NY—New York-based designers New Affiliates, in collaboration with architect and historian Samuel Stewart-Halevy, have launched Testbeds, an initiative to repurpose architectural mockups from large-scale development projects as shade structures, classrooms, and sheds for community gardens. The team is currently working alongside NYC Parks GreenThumb division on a pilot project at the Edgemere Coalition Community Garden in Queens. They are in the process of raising funds for construction in the Fall of 2020 and for future iterations of the project.
Envisioned as a collaboration with local government and gardeners across New York City, Testbeds continues New Affiliates’ commitment to turning construction waste streams into architectural resources, as well as Stewart-Halevy’s research and experiments in embedded practices of design. The initiative was sparked when New Affiliates co-principals Jaffer Kolb and Ivi Diamantopoulou, along with Stewart-Halevy, noticed a similarity in scale between structures found in community gardens and mock-ups commissioned by developers and institutions simulating various parts of a planned building.
While mockups often consist of high-end and resilient materials, they are usually discarded after undergoing a series of reviews. A significant amount of waste results. New Affiliates and Stewart-Halevy saw an opportunity to intervene in this process by funneling architectural resources from New York’s luxury real estate market to neighborhoods in the outer boroughs that have been historically disinvested. In their designs, the discarded mockups become elements of new greenhouses, casitas, tool sheds, cold frames, classrooms, and shade canopies for community gardens. “The histories of development and community gardening in New York have long been intertwined,” Stewart-Halevy says. “By transplanting mockups from the private sphere to public community gardens, we hope to make this relationship more explicit.”
At the same time, the mockup models new possibilities: the chance for a more permanent space for gardeners to work and organize in a time of increasing isolation and vulnerability. “The idea that you could take a fragment from a hundred feet up in the air in Tribeca and put it on the ground in the Far Rockaways and someone can actually walk up to it and access it and inhabit it is exciting to us,” says New Affiliates.
The process of repurposing mockups requires coordination between a wide range of stakeholders including community garden boards, city agencies including Parks and Sanitation and real estate developers. A mockup from the Tribeca condominium 30 Warren provided the founding donation for the Testbeds pilot project: a multipurpose structure for the Edgemere Coalition Community Garden. The mockup, which consists of four custom concrete panels and a large, 8-by-5 foot glass window, anchors the new structure proposed by New Affiliates and Stewart-Halevy. In their plan, the original window opens onto a new room for meetings and classes, which is located under a large shade-producing roof and next to a greenhouse and tool shed.
The Edgemere Coalition Community Garden site was introduced by GreenThumb, which provides programming and material support to over 550 gardens in New York City. As the garden is built out and planted, the Testbeds team will continue to collaborate with local gardeners to develop the multipurpose structure incrementally and in alignment with their needs.
With the site partner in place, Testbeds is seeking support, in the form of monetary and in-kind donations, to construct and maintain the pilot project at Edgemere Coalition Community Garden. Testbeds is also looking for partners and collaborators to assist in scavenging, researching, and constructing this and future projects. For further information or to donate, please visit