On Tuesday morning in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in New York, over-sized scissors snipped a thick red ribbon to signify the opening of the New Lab. An eccentric marching band befitting a quirky Brooklyn crowd provided the fanfare soundtrack while a drone whirred overhead, filming the event.
At 84,000 square feet, the two-story multidisciplinary space is among the largest of its kind. It was co-founded by real estate developer David Belt with artist and entrepreneur Scott Cohen, who are but two names on a long list of individuals and organizations that made the public-private partnership possible—among them politicians, financiers, investors, developers, and, of course, the innovators and technologists that have begun moving into the space.
The New Lab is housed in building No. 128 at the Navy Yard, which has a long history in manufacturing. Built in 1902, the massive space was once where steel workers assembled ships, including the USS Arizona. Now, after a $30 million gut renovation by Belt’s development company, Macro Sea, with DBI and Marvel Architects, in New York, it aims to be a haven for collaboration and innovation in manufacturing. A few vestiges of the building's past remain, however, including massive hooks suspended from the ceiling.
"Our team talks often about the power of old buildings,” Belt said in his remarks at the ribbon cutting. “We believe that it's very important to launch new ideas in old buildings.”
It’s been a long road to realizing the New Lab. Since Cohen and Belt first toured the space in 2011, New York City has experienced two mayoral administrations and the Navy Yard has welcomed a new president. In 2013, the pair opened the New Lab’s predecessor, Beta Space, next door, bringing in a group of design and fabrication startups—including the nonprofit architecture think tank Terreform ONE, sustainable furniture maker EcoSystems Brand, and the Autodesk-owned research and design practice The Living—that together garnered more than $120 million in investment for their work. Prior to moving into the Beta Space, many of its members worked out of the Metropolitan Exchange, a collaborative co-working space in Brooklyn. Now, most of those initial members are moving into the New Lab.
“It's a little scary because the scale, where we had about 7,000 or 8,000 square feet [at Beta Space], you would know who the principals are and who their employees are, but when you ramp it up, you tend to lose sight of who's who,” Terreform ONE founder Mitchell Joachim, Assoc. AIA, says. “It's a gargantuan open volume. It's a cathedral to design and thinking.”
The New Lab's layout takes advantage of its size, co-locating opportunities for solo work, collaboration, and old-fashioned hanging out in an effort to facilitate communication and build relationships among the tenants. The first floor is large and open and includes an event space behind glass doors as well as a kitchen; along the perimeter are conference rooms, also walled off with glass and metal partitions. The ground floor's primary thoroughfare is dotted with cubicles, their walls clad in brightly colored fabric for noise abatement. The second floor rests atop the built space on the first floor's perimeter, with walkways and balconies providing views into the open interior and connecting prototyping labs, offices, and design studios. And there are plenty of tools dispersed throughout for tenants to use: among them a range of 3D printers, from small-scale consumer models to large SLS machines, as well as a laser cutter and a sophisticated spray room that allows for safe and high-quality finishing.
“We have the best facility I've ever seen in my life, and I went to every kind of school of architecture, from state schools in Buffalo, N.Y., to MIT, Harvard, and Columbia,” Joachim says. “No one has a facility anywhere near like this.”
Ready access to such a variety and quality of equipment is a dream for many of the New Lab member-companies, which are universally small, young, and scrappy. “With this type of co-working model, everyone can share and reap the benefits of the sharing economy,” says Matt Tyson, co-founder and innovation director at EcoSystems Brand, which has been working in the Beta Space since 2013 and is preparing to launch its line of modular furniture, Modos (shown above). “I'm really excited about the CNC mill,” he adds. “The access to high-quality prototyping machines is essential to being competitive and quickly coming to market with a product.”
The portfolio of member companies is diverse. With robotics, additive manufacturing, energy, life sciences, artificial intelligence, and plenty more taking up residence together, the opportunity for multidisciplinary innovation looms large. “I'm really good at the physical realm, but I'm not great in the programming realm,” Tyson says. “I've been putting a lot of thought into how to make my furniture smarter—[for example,] turning a glass desk top into a touchscreen interface—and other concepts that I would be able to execute now that I have this highly skilled team around me. It's kind of like having the ultimate Swiss Army knife.”
Another Beta Space member, Nina Edwards Anker, founder of NEA Studio, has already tapped into the expertise of her new neighbors. While searching for an electrical engineer to assist with her line of Latitude Lights (shown below), which are 3D-printed or machined solar-powered luminaires angled to maximize sunlight capture depending on their installation location, Anker sought advice from 10xBeta CEO (and New Lab member) Marcel Botha. Considering a Kickstarter campaign for the fixtures this summer, Anker can turn to another New Lab–mate, designer Jason Krugman, who ran a successful crowdfunding campaign for his Splyt Light earlier this year.
Krugman has also assisted Terreform ONE's Joachim as a subcontractor on one of his projects, which involved creating a sectional grid of LED luminaires that used ultraviolet light to illuminate transgenic E. coli bacteria, showing global population growth and density. “The skill craft, and openness and the linking, it's all around you,” Joachim says. “Ideas just blossom because the people are there, [and] not only the tools and the equipment.”
The building is now teeming with move-in activity, and boxes are stacked high in many of the studio spaces. Tenants can choose among various membership agreements based on their needs, from long-term leases for larger companies to flexible packages for those seeking infrequent access to space and equipment. By September, the New Lab plans to have the facility running at full speed.
"We want to offer the best resources for people building challenging, new products in a city that isn't known for being easy,” Belt says. “Our goal is to help create jobs and companies that make things that matter."