UH Architecture Students Designing Urban Farm for Houston’s Sunnyside Community

Houston’s Sunnyside community is rich with history and culture. Unfortunately, it’s sorely lacking in sources of fresh food. Few grocery outlets and limited options for fruits and vegetables contribute to Sunnyside’s status as a food desert. That may change in the near future with the proposal of a local non-profit organization to develop an urban farm in the neighborhood.

Students from the University of Houston’s Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture have been hard at work this semester developing designs for the planned urban farm site. Led by architecture professor Susan Rogers, UH students visited the two and a half acre Sunnyside site (at Cullen Boulevard and Bellfort Street) and gained insights on the neighboring community. The concept for the future farm site would include a market space, fields, barn, greenhouse, office space and a facility aimed at educational activities.

Rogers’ students soon will share their ideas with members of the community and partnering organization Recipe for Success, a non-profit group aimed at promoting healthy eating in Houston. The project is part of Recipe for Success’ Hope Farms initiative, which provides Houstonians with homegrown produce and offers training for urban farmers.

“There are different elements to this project that are all very important,” Rogers said. “The farm, the site and the educational activities are crucial to the design. Students have to take these elements into consideration as they create something that’s amazing and wonderful for the people who live in the neighborhood and in Houston.”

Rogers’s students, Recipe for Success representatives and three participating student designers from Rice University hosted a workshop to plan for the project. They also toured the site and hosted a reception to promote the project.

“The hope is that this project will yield future design build work from studios at Rice and UH to construct specific buildings for the farm site,” Rogers said.

For now, students are fine-tuning their site plans and designs, which are being presented through models and renderings. It’s presenting a welcome challenge for students, who are applying their design talents to a project that can have a lasting impact on the Sunnyside community.

“This project is interesting to me because it helps and educates people,” said fifth year UH architecture student Jose Bravo. “I’ve learned so much about the community and urban farms. It’s been a very rewarding experience.”

Classmate Vivian Yuen, a fourth year student, concurs. She’s accustomed to projects that are focused on large multifunctional buildings surrounded by similar structures. This project, however, tested her abilities as she created a design that would not overwhelm the community.

Her particular design adheres to the client’s desire to retain the large pecan trees on the site. She uses them as connecting nodes for a pathway through the farm. She also places public spaces (marketplace, educational facility) at the forefront of the site while keeping crops visible to passersby and the community.

“Our partners at Recipe for Success know what goes into an urban farm, so it’s helpful to hear directly from them. Ultimately, I want to know if my project achieved its goal,” Ngyuen said.

This project complements Rogers’ other community initiatives aimed at enhancing neighborhoods. As the director of UH’s Community Design Resource Center, Rogers has empowered students to examine areas in decline and reimagine them.

Rogers’ also oversees the center’s biennial project, the Collaborative Community Design Initiative (CCDI), which fosters community partnerships and addresses challenges in city neighborhoods. Last year, CCDI addressed health-based issues in Houston neighborhoods including their lack of parks, walking trails and healthy food sources. That project was funded by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and supported by a partnership with the Houston Department of Health and Human Services’ Community Transformation Initiative.

To learn more about Rogers’ projects including CCDI, visit the Community Design Resource Center’s website.

Note: Images created by Maham Fatima.