Student team designs Edible Allan Gardens project
June 21, 2016
How do you unite, educate and beautify the community around Allan Gardens, one of Toronto’s oldest parks, while creating a unique learning experience for graduate students? You design and build an edible garden.
The Edible Allan Gardens project, which opened at a community launch picnic on June 4, was created through a unique collaboration of volunteer Ryerson graduate students led by a master of architecture student and community partners, and supported financially by Ryerson’s Learning and Teaching Office (LTO).
For years, partner organizations around Allan Gardens have been interested in creating a public garden with an emphasis on edible plants and vegetables. Lack of time and resources caused the project to languish until professors Lesley G. Campbell and June Komisar joined forces to acquire an LTO grant to support urban agriculture experiential learning. In addition, Joe Nasr, an associate at Ryerson’s Centre for Studies in Food Security, came aboard to advise the project.
With funding to hire a research assistant, Komisar approached master of architecture student Ashley Adams about overseeing the design and build project. Komisar had met Adams through Architecture for Humanity (now the Open Architecture Collaborative), which focuses on design and build projects for marginalized communities. Based on that background, Komisar knew that Adams had a clear understanding of the priorities for the project.
“Design should be for everyone to enjoy, not just those who can afford design work,” says Adams. “Communities deserve beautiful spaces. For the Edible Allan Gardens project, the most important question was, ‘what does your community need?’ The partners wanted an edible garden with open access and a beautiful space to be enjoyed by everyone. So that’s what we focused on.”
Alison Mackenzie of partner group Building Roots supported the build as project manager, co-ordinating the community partners and team of Ryerson student volunteers to meet all deadlines. Her involvement was consistent with the focus of Building Roots, which is to work collaboratively to create urban agriculture, kitchens and markets in order to help neighbourhoods grow, cook, share and buy healthy food.
“The Edible Allan Gardens increases access to growing,” says MacKenzie. “With a garden space, both beauty and function are added to the community. A free and accessible garden provides a greater opportunity for groups and individuals to learn about how to grow food.”
The design challenge for student architect Adams and her team was to provide food-safe, raised-bed containers that were also modular and moveable in the event that the pilot project in Allan Gardens needed to be relocated. They created gabion boxes, hollow metal rectangular baskets that can be filled with growing materials for planting or with more solid contents such as rocks or wood for use as tables or seating. The project also used locally sourced, donated and recycled materials.
“Ashley and her team were faced with a real-world design problem,” says Komisar. “They had to procure materials, co-ordinate with several groups, deal with a budget and make cost-conscious decisions. It’s easy to come up with beautiful designs when there is no budget, but they can be unbuildable. The students learned to design with costs in mind, which made them very creative.”
Looking back, Adams understands why the project was a success. “Everyone came together with a passionate focus: the community partners offering feedback, Alison at Building Roots to oversee the project, June Komisar and Lesley Campbell to secure the RA funding, the Toronto Parks Department donating materials and time, the Ryerson student volunteers to do the leg work, and my background in designing for underserved communities. Together, we created something in an historic Toronto park that promotes open-access urban agriculture, engages the public and starts a lot of interesting conversations!”
“Because Ashley and the Ryerson team showed up with enough training to jump right in, they were able to overcome the various challenges,” says Komisar. “It’s the first time Allan Gardens has been used in this way. We’re grateful for the valuable advice of the staff and the Superintendent of Allan Gardens, Curtis Evoy. With that level of support, all the community partners, as well as the Garden District Residents Association, have been very happy with the outcome. It was a huge success.”