What I love About the New York Sun Works

Digby Hall
3 min readAug 18, 2021


The sweet spot between mitigation, adaptation and disaster preparedness

Sitting atop the Manhattan School for Children is a greenhouse lab that ticks all the boxes in the ‘perfect climate adaptation’ space.

Sun Works Center in New York, photo by Ari Burling

Adapting to a changing climate doesn’t have to be all about defence. There is a small handful of solution-types that lean forward and prepare us for climate change and reduce carbon emissions, and contribute to disaster preparedness, and bring community together.

This example is one of them.

Here’s what I love.

  • It brings food production into the city. Whilst this example isn’t intended to be a productive farm, it shows how we can insert hydroponics, aquaponics and greenhouse growing into vacant space. Bringing food growing into the city is a vital pillar for adaptation.
  • Fresh organic produce from ‘farm to fork’, designing out transport related carbon emissions.
  • It brings community together. In this example the community building is in a school environment and centred around education, but it’s a model that is readily transferable to other community types and settings.
  • Rooftop greenhouses can be retro-fitted to existing buildings. It activates the ‘third plane’.
  • It creates recreational, social, gathering space around Nature, typically always in short supply in most of our urban environments. Safely away from the street, and a safe space for communities.
  • Harnesses rainwater, helps cool the building underneath, recycles organic waste.
  • A greenhouse has better ability to modulate the temperature for the plants (they don’t have to be all glass) which in many climate zones will be an important defence against extreme heat and heat events.
  • Food production can continue even when a climate event has interrupted food supply chains into the city, whether that be through damaging crops (floods, wildfires, storms and hurricanes) or blocking access (from floods or wildfires).
  • In this setting children are also learning about growing food, a great investment for a future where climate impacted industrial food chains will experience significant disruption.

If climate changes reduce crop yields, international food prices and the number of food-insecure people are expected to increase globally… there are large numbers of households that would be especially vulnerable to a loss of food access if food prices were to increase (MBow, IPCC 2019)

I know I often send clients to posts like this and I often come back myself to find resources, so hit the links below for more info.

Can you think of any spaces where a greenhouse could be inserted? Schools, hospitals, offices, apartment buildings? We need to consider some practicalities such as access, structural loading and planning permits, but to be honest that’s all relatively easy to solve.

The main and most vital ingredient is having a group of people who want to have control over their own adaptations to climate change, and are determined to see it through.

I have a group of amazing friends around the world who design and build these for a living. If you need help please reach out.



Digby Hall

Climate adaptation specialist, striving to help tackle climate change through positive adaptation. Think. Move. Act.