Text by Alec Coiro
Photos by Joe DeNardo
Sunnie Joh recently left her position The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design to move to Hobart, New York where she is transforming a barn, a farmhouse, and some sprawling acreage into a school for sustainable design.
She thinks, perhaps, it would be more proper to call it Future School.
It will be a DIY school for people who want to learn how to survive in the future by learning sustainable ways of reaping food from the land and managing water. As Sunnie puts it, “It’s time for our generation to have a school. It’s not so much that I should teach people what they should know; it’s more that I’m going to pool resources: I pool knowledge, infrastructure, materials, and capital.”
The governing ideas behind the school are the concept of design-build and permaculture.
Design-build is like architecture for people who want to make things happen quickly, cheaply, and in a community-oriented way. The design-build approach is in the service of permaculture, an agricultural philosophy directed at working in harmony with nature and conceiving of the land in a holistic way. For Sunnie, permaculture includes building up the soil, keeping the water on site, growing food in the forest, forest management, and increasing biodiversity among other things. Sunnie studied architecture at The Cooper Union and sustainable building and design at Yestermorrow, the design-build school in Vermont that provides a model for her school in upstate New York. She also has a property deeper into the country where she is building her “cabin” on the property referred to as “camp” where Sunnie has been putting her practice to the land for the last 3 years. She plans to have her separate but related design/build business out of Hobart, the “camp” being her first case study.
Sunnie and her crew of friends are upstate as we speak designing and constructing the school around a sustainable model. The school itself will be a small-diversified farm that will provide the food for the school’s kitchen. Sunnie’s broader pedagogical approach is to confront students with on-site problems, and then figure out hands-on solutions to them. According to Sunnie, “There are solutions to problems that people keep employing, even though they aren’t necessarily the best solutions.” With this approach Sunnie intends to reach beyond sustainable and resilient design to regenerative design where farms are designed with the next seven generations in mind.
The Village of Hobart is in Delaware County about an hour’s drive north west of Kingston, deep in the heart of cow country. The school’s faculty will be drawn from local and the larger network of next generation educators traveling between New York and Vermont, and courses will be offered seasonally in the spring, summer, and fall with the inaugural classes planned for June 2015. The name of the school is up in the air. Sunnie is drawn to the name Farm School, but worries people will expect livestock. She thinks, perhaps, it would be more proper to call it Future School.