Architecture Student’s Proposal for Local Tomatoes

Haley O’Brien, a dual master’s candidate in architecture and construction management in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts and School of Engineering and Applied Science, has a plan for the former Magic Chef facility, located at the northeastern corner of The Hill.

Architecture is about solving problems. Here are two:

* American produce is shipped an average of 1,500 miles before reaching its point of sale. For tomatoes, that figure is 1,569.

* In St. Louis, the old Magic Chef factory sits empty and unused. Yet the 13-building complex occupies 500,000 square feet of prime location at the northeastern edge of The Hill, a historic Italian-American enclave that boasts more than 40 restaurants and some of the finest eating in the Midwest.

For Haley O’Brien, a graduate architecture student in WUSTL’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, the solution was obvious. With all that red sauce, why not grow tomatoes down the street, instead of across the country?

Last spring, as part of a studio led by senior lecturer Don Koster, O’Brien developed a detailed proposal to transform the Magic Chef complex into a giant hydroponic farm. Over the summer, she presented her ideas to the current property owners, who arranged a meeting with community stakeholders and potential investors.

We sat down with O’Brien, who is pursuing a dual master’s in construction management through WUSTL’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, to discuss hydroponics, redevelopment and the sensitivities of designing in the city’s most distinctive neighborhood.

Read the full story and interview in the WUSTL Newsroom.