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Prisons yesterday, farms tomorrow

by Peace Chiu on Mar 25, 2015 in Architecture
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Design firm Thread Collective’s innovative upcycling concept aims to turn shuttered prisons into productive farms (Photo courtesy of Thread Collective)

Design firm Thread Collective’s innovative upcycling concept aims to turn shuttered prisons into productive farms (Photo courtesy of Thread Collective)

Design firm Thread Collective's innovative upcycling concept aims to turn shuttered prisons into productive farms

Architecture and landscape firm Thread Collective is working on an innovative upcycling concept to turn today’s shuttered prisons into productive farms of tomorrow.

Gita Nandan, one of Thread Collective’s principals, explains that her firm has seen the reuse of decommissioned prisons to become urban agriculture centres of food and culture. They also observed the benefit of retraining inmates for release in these centres.

For example, there are aquaponic tanks and bee farms in an abandoned North Carolina prison in the US, as part of a small business programme. Meanwhile, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada is one of the largest urban farms in North America—the 800-acre Frontenac prison farm.

“Many prisons already operate farms while open, and it’s a logical way to redevelop their large open spaces and buildings,” adds Nandan.

Gita Nandan notes, "Many prisons already operate farms while open, and it's a logical way to redevelop their large open spaces and buildings."

Gita Nandan notes, “Many prisons already operate farms while open, and it’s a logical way to redevelop their large open spaces and buildings.”

Elliott Maltby, a landscape architect and also a principal of Thread Collective, explains that the use of defunct prisons as agricultural sites has been demonstrated in several locations around the world. “It shows us how increased creativity in urban agriculture is helping communities and families harvest local food sources and combat high grocery costs while the neighborhoods join a global movement to be more sustainable and self-sustaining.”

This upcycling concept is also explored as part of a university architecture course the two Thread Collective’s principals teach at Pratt Institute, in which students develop concepts for prison farms.

This prison farm concept is the latest example of how Maltby and Nandan are helping nurture recent growth in novel, small-scale agriculture in US cities, part of their urban landscape specialty. Their focus is to link buildings and sites in special ways to improve neighborhoods and generate new local resources.

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