The dream of the Green House Venture to create an unparalleled educational experience in
bio-science, urban agriculture, and nutrition and dietetics for elementary school students becomes more real every day.
That compelling vision has been formed and sustained by countless advocates and supporters since our beginning in 2015. Among the earliest and most deeply involved contributors has been the Urban Improvement Company (UIC). As noted on their website, the firm’s ambition is to be “a truly proactive force for creating and improving great city neighborhoods.”
The firm has been instrumental in the Venture’s progress from the outset. Their chief contribution has been the design of our state-of-the-art Education Center, which is scheduled to begin construction sometime in early 2023, with completion planned in time for the fall 2024 semester.
In a recent interview, UIC co-founder, Sarah Gibson, shared her thoughts and feelings about the work of the Green House Venture and why they are so passionately committed to our mission.
1. What made you consider working with a start-up like the Green House Venture 7 years ago when nothing was in place and UIC was a young company working on risky designs in challenging areas?
When Tom Purcell first came to us with the opportunity to be involved several years ago, we did not hesitate. The GHV was looking innovatively and collaboratively at how to raise awareness about sustainable urban food production, plus issues of food insecurity and nutrition. We were already active in the community and believe passionately in diverse, walkable, safe, and beautiful urban neighborhoods. Educational facilities contribute on many levels to healthy urban environments.
As a parent at one of the Urban Alliance Schools, I was also excited about a facility for teaching science and math with all of the activities that go along with growing, maintaining, and harvesting vegetables and fish. At that time, we were starting to understand that our own children were struggling with a traditional classroom environment, and we are very much in support of giving students non-conventional hands-on opportunities to learn.
2. What makes the GHV project stand out compared to your work with other clients?
The GHV and its leaders are steadfast in building a coalition to bring the Education Center to life in a way that pushes boundaries. They experiment with ways to address current issues around urban food production and distribution, food insecurity, nutrition, and STEM education. The Education Center will take that work to a new level. Not everyone has the vision to locate a building next to the highway and say, “How can we make this underutilized and generally un-attractive land more accessible and productive?” The GHV is challenging the status quo at every level.
3. What is your favorite aspect of the GHV Education Center as you design it?
It is fun to know that the building will be a beautiful addition to the neighborhood, as well as a living, breathing, space that adapts with the seasons and with technological advances. This building feels like a machine for learning, and the design evokes curiosity. Many of the exterior and interior walls are transparent, allowing students, visitors and neighbors to peer through and see how food is grown, harvested, and prepared for distribution.
4. What aspects of the GHV Education Center make it unique and groundbreaking?
An easier question to answer would be, “What doesn’t make it unique and groundbreaking?” It starts with the Venture’s mission and the remarkable collaboration between the board, the participating schools, and major research institutions. The curriculum and the campus offer an extraordinary approach to supplement STEM education across diverse schools in the Shaw neighborhood and beyond, bringing to the forefront issues around urban food production that can impact future generations.
5. What has been the biggest challenge in the GHV Education Center design?
The GHV leaders have been very cognizant of the challenges that come with constructing this type of building along an interstate highway in the heart of a major urban center. Working in a big city means navigating many regulatory entities, and the outcomes are not always predictable.
Had the leaders not been aware of things like the constraints of building in a historic neighborhood, obtaining lot consolidation, and requesting conditional use zoning, the process could have stalled numerous places along the way. We allowed enough time to get this done thoughtfully, and so far, we have been successful.
6. What elements make this building sustainable?
Through direction from the GHV leaders and board, sustainability has been integral to the process of creating the GHV campus. Following their lead, we have looked continuously through a sustainable lens in the design of the Education Center. The building, first and foremost, is on a site in a historic neighborhood that is part of an existing urban infrastructure.
The building is also situated to maximize the sun’s orientation for various elements of the educational program. We are currently working with engineers to make the Center as energy efficient as possible, with highly efficient heating and cooling systems that can be tracked to measure performance. Other measures will be taken to conserve water, such as high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, as well as the landscape design, rain barrels, green roofs, and a rain garden. Solar panels will also be installed on the two-story portion of the building.
7. What has been the most rewarding work in designing the GHV Education Center?
The entire effort has touched so many people, and the coalition continues to build. The last couple of years have seen shifts in education because of the pandemic, and the Venture has adapted to create an even more robust learning environment. It has been exciting to integrate technology that will allow the curriculum to reach more students – being more hands-on and virtual at the same time.