Along the Lumbee River, North Carolina

Flipping the Prison: Projects

Group Project

Public Space

In 2017, upon invitation from MIT graduate student Insiyah Mohammad, Noran Sanford and several GrowingChange Youth Leaders presented their work at the school’s department of urban studies and planning. During the lecture, GrowingChange, a youth-led nonprofit, described its goals to flip a decommissioned prison site into an agricultural community center. After the presentation, several architecture graduate students offered to assist GrowingChange during summer breaks; from there, a fruitful collaboration took root. 

As this collaboration persisted from summer to summer, the number of graduate students grew and Group Project, a student-led design collective, was formed. 

Below is a series of design ideas that Group Project has developed in collaboration with GrowingChange. The projects have always been a shared effort between everyone involved: at times initiated by the GrowingChange Youth Leaders, or suggested by Group Project through conversations with the Youth Leaders. 

Every year Group Project has undertaken a new set of projects. However, over the years, we have reduced the scope and scale of the projects in hopes of finding the right balance between imagination and realization. Not shown here are the many hours of conversation, discussion, and designing that evolved into the projects below.—Morgan Augillard and Joey Swerdlin, Along the Lumbee River report editors

Read Flipping the Prison: Confessional, a meditation on how community-driven work fits into design practice.

All text, work, and images by Group Project unless otherwise noted.

2017: New Visions for a New Campus

Our first design collaboration with GrowingChange included 3D scanning the entire site, producing a set of as-built plans, and creating new visualizations for future projects. These designs were guided by the GrowingChange Youth Leaders’ vision for the future of the site and also became marketing materials to support GrowingChange’s grand opening and capital fundraising campaign. The fundraising resulted in an ongoing relationship with Campbell’s Soup Foundation and the Kellogg Foundation. We also developed a full set of construction documents to transform the former exercise pavilion on site into The Hearth, an outdoor BBQ hut.

View a portfolio of Group Project's 2017 work for GrowingChange

2018: Porch Swing

Our second visit to North Carolina included more than three times as many MIT students as the previous summer, for a total of 13. Even so, we decreased our scope to design smaller interventions around the site in order to realize projects that could be accomplished at costs lower than a full building renovation. An investigation into developing a bespoke porch swing that could be replicated around the campus took primary focus. During this process, we reached out to local fabricators to get input on the best way to go about designing the details. In addition, we produced a booklet detailing GrowingChange’s history, clinical model, and the first two years of projects completed through the collaboration.

View a portfolio of Group Project's 2018 work for GrowingChange

2019: Building Signage

In our third year of collaborating, we were determined to see a project through to completion. After proposing a series of small interventions around the exterior of the site, GrowingChange concluded that signage was the highest priority and most feasible. These signs are intended to psychologically transform the site by renaming the prison buildings with the Youth Leaders’ visions for the future of each space. 

The Youth Leaders were involved in the signs’ fabrication, which made for a fun collaboration!

View a portfolio of Group Project's 2019 work for GrowingChange

2020: Fully Remote Collaborations

In our fourth year, we have focused on using publication as a means to build relationships. Through completing this American Roundtable report we have deepened connections with our collaborators and reached out to new friends. In addition, we have also developed a new project called Postcard Penpals that will further establish communication with the GrowingChange Youth Leaders by allowing them to participate in the design of various spaces around the GrowingChange site. This project will be ongoing through the summer of 2021. 

View a portfolio of Group Project's 2020 work for GrowingChange

Current members of Group Project include: Morgan Augillard, Alex Bodkin, Jonathon Brearley, Isadora Dannin, Jola Idowu, Kailin Jones, Joey Swerdlin, and Emily Wissemann. 

Past members include: Charlotte D’Acierno, Hannah Diaz, John Fechtel, Ben Hoyle, Lucas Igarzabal, Melika Konjicanin, Thuy Le, Stephanie Lee, Milan Outlaw, and Emma Pfeiffer.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.