During the summer of 2021, The School of Architecture, founded by Frank Lloyd Wright, expanded its Usonia 21 initiative by designing the future Hope Haven Retreat Center at Pitt Family Farm in North Carolina. Hope Haven Academy, a local nonprofit, envisions an agriculture-centered, learning-by-doing program for at-risk youth, hosted at the Farm. This project, like the Usonia 21 initiative, Seabreeze Bop City, will be developed collaboratively with partner Land Rich, a Robert Wynn organization that helps Black landowners navigate the land reclamation process. The school’s graduate students developed a campus masterplan presentation that considers the issues of land rights and architectural development within the context of racial and social justice. Students had a unique opportunity to visit North Carolina, explore the site, and learn from a family who has been tending this farmland for six generations. The collaboratively-driven design process immersed the students in the local culture and site-specific needs and helped generate campus designs that drew upon the wealth of local vernacular knowledge arising from over 150 years of intergenerational land cultivation practices.
The Pitt Family Farm, the site for this exciting new project, dealt with the issues of heirs’ property firsthand. Even though The Farm had been black-owned and in the family since acquisition in 1868, the family land devolved into heirs’ property when it was passed down through the generations informally—without a will or any legal documentation. Land Rich, operating under a Ford Foundation Grant, and with Felton Wooten representing the Pitt family, resolved the issue to secure the future of the farm and the family’s rights to the land’s ownership. Land Rich provided legal guidance to help move the farm out of heirs’ property status; in 2002, the family deeded the property to an LLC, under which the Farm operates today.
Historically, the Farm grew corn, tobacco, watermelon, cantaloupes, cucumbers, string beans and soybeans, while also raising livestock such as hogs and cows. As The Farm looks to secure its future, it has introduced new crops ranging from prawns to microgreens, which are currently sold to local restaurants and grocery stores. Future development includes the cultivation of hemp, installation of solar energy, and a new partnership with Only Moso Bamboo. The Farm is currently working with the company to identify bamboo-based building products that the School may showcase in its designs.
During the course of the program, students are challenged to explore issues of land use, land rights, and architectural development within the context of equity, racial and social justice. They are also encouraged to explore contemporary thinking in low-density urban and suburban design, including alternative models for cooperative living. Sustainable design and materials, including the farm’s own bamboo crop, was heavily considered.
Students made their way from the Arcosanti campus to North Carolina. On June 26th, students joined the inaugural “Pitt Family Farm Harvest Festival – A Juneteenth Experience”, a one-day food and music festival hosted at the Farm. During this kick-off event, the School conducted a site visit and presented initial designs to the community. Students then honed their designs and concepts before a final project presentation later in the summer. Hope Haven Academy and Pitt Family Farms will be able to use these designs as a jumping off point for their development of Hope Haven Retreat Center. The School is proud to support the Pitt Family Farm as it enters its 153rd year of continuous operation with a spirit of perseverance and hope for a sustainable future.