As participants in today’s Archtober Building of the Day tour discovered, the siting of New Lab in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard couldn’t be more harmonious with the mission of the space. Considering the history of the Navy Yard as a hub of innovation—the place where the USS Arizona was built, where Squibb invented anesthesia, and where opera singer Eugenia Farrar sang the first song broadcast over wireless radio—we couldn’t think of a more appropriate backdrop for New Lab, a space that uniquely supports entrepreneurs working in advanced technology.
Designed by the Marvel Architects alongside his project management firm DBI, New Lab is located inside of the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard Building 128—a century-old former shipbuilding machine shop. It was the primary machine shop for every major ship launched during World Wars I and II, but by 2011, the site was a deserted iron skeleton. That’s when the 51,000-square-foot shop was repurposed into an 84,000-square-foot multidisciplinary design, prototyping, and advanced manufacturing hub.
In addition to plentiful meeting, office, and exhibition space, New Lab’s amenities include a woodshop, a metal shop, and two 3-D printing labs for members. Details such as these underscore New Lab’s commitment to supporting entrepreneurs in cutting-edge technological fields including robotics, urban agriculture, AI, and nanotechnology. Members also have access to an arguably more valuable resource: each other, as well as a network of city agencies, venture capitalists, domain experts, and corporate partners. Only 15% of applicants are ultimately accepted to New Lab, and leases are set at one year to ensure longer-term use of the space.
The tour uncovered how deeply the designers considered ways of configuring the building to align with preservation standards. Central to the interior design was the desire to preserve the massive “central corridor” and to establish a clear path down the center of the space. “We were committed to the notion of being able to experience the trusswork continuously from end to end,” explained Scott Demel, AIA, of Marvel Architects.
Co-working spaces are currently all the rage, but unlike many of these, the driving force in New Lab’s design was respect for the original building, rather than a desire to squeeze every last square foot out into rentable workspace. The result is an airy, voluminous space supporting not just work, but exhibitions and large gatherings as well. The interior feels ethereally light despite the massive original iron and steel beams preserved within.
The space is punctuated by bursts of colorful lounge spaces for meetings and impromptu conversations. As opposed to many buildings with technical programs, where the interior design is either driven by playful, gaming-centered design or the streamlined minimalism of an Apple store, here the designers went for postmodern furniture in strong, saturated colors.
Clearly, much consideration was also given to user experience—and not just for the workspaces inhabited by entrepreneurial tech companies. The visitor experience was also key in developing the interior layout; the designers wanted the casual visitor to be able to experience the space on their own terms without disturbing work happening within. The repetitive series of bridges, walkways, and mezzanines offers unique vantage points and opportunities to traverse the space, and the compartmentalized one-story offices provide tidy compartments of space along the perimeter.
New Lab is an inspiring, thoughtful space dedicated to the history and the future of innovation, tucked away in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard.
Author: Mary Fichtner