The Garden Cottage: Making Space for Food Security

Published December 10, 2020 at 2:41pm
Story by Mary Martin. Photos by Kirsten Chilstrom.

Working at the intersection of design and storytelling, the team at buildingcommunityWORKSHOP has merged the worlds of architecture, history, mapping, and community development. As a nonprofit design firm, they see the world through a lens of new ideas and connection between the built and human elements of a city. The latest project from bcWORKSHOP is small in size, but big in neighborhood impact. A tiny house nestled in the community garden in Dolphin Heights will make it possible to grow more fresh produce, while also creating opportunities for education and volunteer involvement.


Lizze MacWillie, bcWORKSHOP’s Director of Urbanism, is working closely with Ms. Anna Hill, the longtime Dolphin Heights Neighborhood Association president to determine the best design and functionality for the garden cottage. The tiny home will provide a residence for a garden caretaker who will take the lead to see that the community garden thrives.

For Lizzie, the smaller scale of this project helps bcWORKSHOP to step outside the typical structures of the architecture and grant cycles that drive their larger building projects. “We have been considering how we can support neighborhoods and neighborhood leaders and the work they are trying to get done. We want to be able to quickly respond and be nimble in our fundraising for an immediate need in a neighborhood.”

Food security in Dolphin Heights is an ongoing issue, marked by lack of local grocery stores and access to produce. Dallas ISD’s Community Resource Explorer rated the area’s health index at just 16 out 100, and reported that household monthly spending on fresh produce averaged just $283, compared to $428 in neighborhoods just a few miles away. “Dolphin Heights is in need of fresh, nutritious food—and the garden has the potential to serve the community far more than it currently does,” says Ms. Hill. “With a gardener living on site, residents, especially children, will benefit from hands-on educational activities with seed-growing and eating fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Ms. Anna Hill, Dolphin Heights Neighborhood Association President

Ms. Anna Hill, Dolphin Heights Neighborhood Association President



The bcWORKSHOP team has worked in partnership with the Dolphin Heights neighborhood association for over a decade, and is even designing a home there for one of the its team members, but the idea for the garden cottage began with a chicken coop. “Our team has known Ms. Hill for years, but the idea for the cottage came about this year when our executive director Benje was working with her to make repairs to her chicken coop next to the garden,” Lizzie says. “He talked to her about the effort it takes to run the garden and how she does most of the work, but needs consistent help.” Volunteer groups have occasionally helped to plant vegetables and pull weeds, but Benje and the bcWORKSHOP team offered the idea of a more permanent space that would offer not only an affordable housing option for the neighborhood, but also the support that Ms. Hill needs to keep the community garden sustainable for the long-term.

Benje Feehan, bcWORKSHOP Executive Director, with Ms. Anna Hill

Benje Feehan, bcWORKSHOP Executive Director, with Ms. Anna Hill

Using the garden cottage as an example of density housing is also part of the Dolphin Heights project, knowing that creative use of space in urban neighborhoods can offer more opportunities for single-family housing. “How do we provide for a variety of different needs at different price points at different points in people’s lives? Sometimes you might want to buy a home, but sometimes it might not be the right time, or you don’t need a three bedroom two bath; you might be looking for something smaller. And so for us, in addition to being able to support Dolphin Heights and Ms. Hill, this project is also a way to demonstrate a new design option,” Lizzie explains.

The overlapping nature of architectural design and placemaking is what drew Lizzie to bcWORKSHOP in the first place, moving from New York, then to the Netherlands before settling in Dallas. “To be able to think about how art and culture can inform, or be a part of community development, especially with the emphasis on resident participation and collaboration—that is what interests and motivates me,” she says. And the tangible effort toward neighborhood-focused projects across Texas continues, even in the face of a pandemic. The garden cottage project is scheduled to begin construction in April of 2021 and be completed in just four months.

If you would like to directly support this project, you can make a donation, or reach out to the bcWORKSHOP team.

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