How This NYC Firm Turns Architectural Mock-ups Into Community Gardens

Using design models usually discarded as waste, "Testbeds" by New Affiliates aims to put them to work for greater good

How This NYC Firm Turns Architectural Mock-ups Into Community Gardens


Ellen Eberhardt


via New Affiliates

Pennsylvania raised and Brooklyn-based, Ellen is a designer, outdoorist, and sometimes dancer.

New York-based design practice New Affiliates, in collaboration with NYC Parks Green Thumb and architect and historian Samuel Stewart-Halevy, aims to repurpose castaways of architectural mock-ups as public infrastructure with their newly launched project, Testbeds.

Testbeds began after the firm’s observation of waste generated from the architectural design process—in particular, architectural mock ups. Mock-ups are life-sized portions of a building (for instance, one window with a surrounding section of wall) constructed to test both the visual and material performance of a future building. Once testing is complete, mock-ups are often discarded in landfills as there's no official use (nor room) for random free-standing walls in an office setting. This is where Testbeds comes in.



After observing small structures found in community gardens throughout New York City—from greenhouses, casitas, and tool sheds to cold frames, shade canopies, and pergolas—the studio found the scale of the mock-ups similar to the dimensions of these various outbuildings and theorized the mock-ups may be used as replacement parts, or as building blocks for entirely new structures.

The studio also sees the use of the mock-ups, many of which come from the design and build process of high-rise buildings, as returning a portion of the surplus-value of high-end development to historically disinvested neighborhoods.

A pilot project of the initiative is currently underway in Edgemere Coalition Community Garden in Edgemere, Queens, set to be completed by the end of 2020. This first project employs a mock-up, donated to New Affiliates by developer Cape Advisors, as the cornerstone and structural support to a small multipurpose room intended to be a space for meetings or classes.


The space is covered by a large roof that also stretches over a tool shed and greenhouse to create a small enclave of outdoor-oriented buildings. Another proposal for a mock-up turned greenhouse is in motion for a garden in tManhattan's East Village neighborhood.

At the core of sustainable design is re-imagination—looking at a system in place from a shifted perspective to see how one might intervene and redirect it to increase efficiency. And Testbeds achieves this. Though this should not be seen as a long term solution-rather a temporary one as we shift the true socio-economic needs of under-funded neighborhoods towards the center of urban design practice.

It is only when there is no longer a need to re-allocate waste from luxury real estate projects into under-cared for neighborhoods, that the design industry may be truly sustainable.


Published 09-11-2020