Sankofa Village Education Center and Urban Farm, Pittsburgh, PA

arch 432 individual studio project | 2020
created with direction from Vikki Ayanna Jones, CEO & Founder of Sankofa Village Community Garden

Click any drawing for high quality PDF

This catalyst project attempts to create urban space in a neighborhood which has become progressively less urban for decades. Urban space is restored aesthetically by recreating street walls based on Sanborn insurance map property lines, and practically by mixing uses within the framework of the historic property lines. Unlike previous urban development in the area, this project includes green space as part of a potential future greenway corridor along the East Busway and uses south-facing facades to capture daylight and wind from the west.

The education center is split into thirds by two connections between Susquehanna St and the garden space to the south. The first, separating the western third from the central third, is a winter garden space and displays the building’s central stairs. The second, to the east, is a two-story hole in the building where an alley exists today. This passage would become a bikeway connecting the Homewood neighborhood to the East Busway transit corridor.

Conceptual models of bike, pedestrian, transit, and private car movement vectors and intersections.

The southern half of the site comprises urban farm raised beds; play and gathering spaces; and a series of stormwater runoff river beds, ponds, and marshes which would contain and clean stormwater instead of allowing it to flood neighborhood streets. South of the main site is an existing mural space, which could be opened into a farmer’s market space and connected to the main site by a wide raised crosswalk across Finance St.

The building’s southern facade is composed of greenhouse spaces facing almost directly south, which capture light and heat from the sun but which can act as a buffer to keep classroom spaces cool in the summer. The resulting sawtooth pattern also allows prevalent westerly winds to provide a stronger cross breeze in classroom spaces.

Food from the greenhouses and urban farm would be used in a learning kitchen and restaurant at the eastern corner of the site. In addition to classroom spaces and this restaurant, the education center includes an all-purpose room gymnasium, a maker space, a bike shop for rentals and mechanic education, and a roof terrace for community events. The building is designed to allow the administration and classroom spaces to be securely locked while public events are occuring at any or all of the facilities mentioned.

Though the entire block was blanketed in buildings a century ago, the existing site has only one house left. The education center reestablishes a street wall along Susquehanna St, mirroring a still-mostly-in-tact street wall across the street. The original property lines shown on Sanborn insurance maps, which establish the pattern of rooms in the education center, are slightly off-perpendicular to the street. Therefore, the hallway along the street begins as a wide lobby, transitions to a linear main stairway, and slowly gets narrower as classrooms branch off to the right.

The building is constructed with a system of glu-lam beams and cross-laminated timber panels. The urban farm space could host geothermal heat transfer equipment below ground.