Macro Sea’s David Belt takes us inside New Lab, an 84,000-square-foot thinkspace in the Navy Yard

Posted On Wed, October 5, 2016 By

Posted On Wed, October 5, 2016 By In Architecture, Features, Interviews, navy yard, Studio Visits, Technology

The Brooklyn Navy Yard has since its inception acted as a pole for the cutting edge and creative, from its time as the “The Can-Do Shipyard” where U.S. warships assembled, to present day as urban farmersphotographers and filmmakers carve out spaces for themselves on the campus’ more than 300 acres. But the latest most notable addition to the Navy Yard is most certainly New Lab. New Lab is the creation of Macro Sea (who many will remember brought dumpster pools to NYC a few years ago) and is a revolutionary hub that turns an 84,000-square-foot former shipping building into a thinkspace for nearly 300 engineers and entrepreneurs working in advanced hardware and robotics. Here, members whose work include everything from designing nano microscopes to using synthetic biology to engineer cities can take their ideas from concept to prototype to production under one roof. It’s what the founders are calling “a breakthrough ecosystem of shared resources.”

In this 6sqft feature, we speak to New Lab’s co-founder and Macro Sea Executive Director and founder David Belt. David is also the founder and Managing Partner of DBI, which is currently managing the realization of the Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center, amongst other high-profile projects around the city. Ahead, he takes us through the new facility and gives us some intel on what inspired the design, the cutting edge companies that have taken up space, and what he ultimately hopes to achieve with New Lab.

Brooklyn Navy Yard, Navy Yard redevelopment, Building 77, Russ & DaughtersImage courtesy of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Where did the idea for New Lab come from and why did you choose the Navy Yard over Sunset Park or DUMBO where a lot of tech and manufacturing work is already happening?

David: I think that the Navy Yard’s a really special place and I really believe in its mission. It’s this large campus surrounded by three rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, but they can never be residential. It just seemed like it had so much potential for interesting things to happen. A friend of mine introduced me to the president of the Navy Yard at the time, Andrew Kimball, who is now running Industry City, and he took me into this incredible structure. It has 70-foot ceilings and when it was built it had state of the art of manufacturing. My team and I did a lot of research on the building and we learned about the warships that were built here and a lot of the other innovations that happened in this building. We just thought it was such great narrative to create something upon.

But, you know, ultimately it was a combination of things that brought us here. If I bought something in DUMBO or in Industry City, it would have been very, very expensive. But because this was a city-owned asset and it needed so much work, we thought we could raise a different type of capital for it. We could spend what we needed to make it a really impactful project, but at the same time keep the cost down for the members that we wanted to attract. We can afford to have really innovative companies here and not just big corporations or universities. So it’s all of that combined with the fact that I really like the Navy Yard a lot.

david belt, dbi projects, macro-sea, new lab, nea lab brooklyn navy yard

david belt, dbi projects, macro-sea, new lab, nea lab brooklyn navy yard

The interior incorporates a lot of color, plants and relics from the shipping yard. You started out with an empty shell. How did you approach design of the space?

David: For different projects we do different things, and for this project we did the design ourselves. We worked with Marvel as our lead architect and our architect of record, but Nicko Elliott, who is my design director, and his team and I really thought a lot about the design. We were aware of the fact that it would be very easy to dip into clichés and we wanted to avoid that. The two styles that always come to mind when you’re building a tech space is Tech 4.0—or what we would say is like the “iPhone-ization” of something—where it’s supposed to look really sleek and really clean. We didn’t want that. On the other end, if you’re building in a warehouse, it’s expected to look really tough with steel and that sort of stuff, and we wanted to avoid that cliché as well. We were really inspired by having a space where the theme is “We don’t know what the future’s going to look like, but we know what the future looked like in 1973.”

We like the optimism of the early ‘70s and all of our members are groups working on hardware and robotics and AI, so we wanted to create a sense of optimism, because there’s a lot of pessimism in technology right now—all these ideas about the robot apocalypse and AI becoming smarter than humans. And so the most optimistic time we thought of was the early ‘70s. We had landed on the moon in the late ‘60s, the Vietnam War had ended, and it was before the ‘70s got really gnarly in terms of design. A lot of the furniture we designed ourselves and manufactured in Brooklyn. We also bought a lot of the chairs at auction and refurbished them in fabrics with very early-70s colors. A lot of the furniture we built is based on trestle architecture and that’s very characteristic of the building, so we’re also paying homage to the structure. As for the plants, in most of our projects we try to do a lot of plants. It just makes the air better and the space nicer.

david belt, dbi projects, macro-sea, new lab, nea lab brooklyn navy yard

david belt, dbi projects, macro-sea, new lab, nea lab brooklyn navy yard

New Lab’s roster of tenants is really diverse. How did you choose who would take up space here? I imagine you must have had a lot of applicants.

David: We have had a lot of applications. When we’re full we can take around 60 companies depending on their size. We’ve had over 300 companies apply, but we’ve tried to really stick to our thesis. We’re not a co-working space; you can’t rent desks here by the month. We want people that are working in the fields that we’re interested in, and we’re very interested in what’s going on in hardware. We believe there’s a lot of support for software in New York and we think hardware is an important thing. We really want to be at the intersection of hardware and software and at the intersection of enterprise and entrepreneur.

But some of the companies we’ve chosen are some of the most interesting in their field and their people are at the top of their game intellectually. We have Nanotronics Imaging, which is a company I have invested in, and they make the world’s best nano microscope. So they’re doing work that covers everything from inspecting food for E. coli to inspecting cells for cancer to creating photovoltaic cells in paint. We also have Honeybee Robotics, which makes parts for the Mars Rover. A few of the anchor tenants [like the two mentioned] my partner Scott Cohen and I really worked hard to attract to New Lab. We invited them personally because we thought they’d be an important part of our team.

In terms of applicants, we have an application process and people apply online. If the company looks interesting, we have a panel of experts in the field evaluate them. We can vet the companies pretty well through our community and it’s been working really well. We have about 230 people working here every day and I like all of them.

david belt, dbi projects, macro-sea, new lab, nea lab brooklyn navy yard

So what if you’re just someone in the community who’s interested in tech, or you’re someone working in tech and you have ideas but not a lot of resources, are there opportunities to get involved with New Lab?

David: Definitely. For example, I’m in the big conference room and I’m looking into our event space and there’s maybe 200 people in there for a workshop on financing hardware companies. So there are public events and meetups open to everyone. That’s one. Two, as I mentioned, we’re trying to be very specific about the types of companies we’re inviting as it relates to hardware. But there are some hardware adjacent tech folks. So people working in software as it relates to sensors or big data that want to work with us on data collection can come in and be a flex member. So maybe we don’t have room for them to be housed here, but we have a flex membership so that they can come to events, share resources, and they can use our shops.

But I don’t want this to become a makerspace where someone comes in to build a cabinet. I think that makerspaces are amazing—and we have one in Philly called NextFab—but these people are doing serious work and need all the help they can get. I really want that equipment to be here for them. We want this to be a product realization space for people who are trying to create companies and grow meaningful products.

macro-sea-dumpster-pools-glassphemy

My last question is a throwback to some of the quirkier projects you’ve done in the past, like Glassphemy and the dumpster pools. Is New Lab a sign of Macro Sea “growing up,” or is there a common thread that binds all of these projects together?

David: Well, our mission is to do projects that we find interesting. So it’s actually a combination of things. I started Macro Sea in 2009 and I have a lot of experience building buildings. We really did the dumpster pools not as an art project, but as an experimentation for larger development project where I was trying to buy abandoned shopping centers to turn into recreation. But it became a little bit of a press magnet, and the same for Glassphemy.

For a while I was worried that because those projects were so popular that people would think I was just trying to do non-serious art projects, but that was never the intention. The intention was to build things that we found interesting and that we’re thinking about. And while I thought I would do more projects like Glassphemy and the dumpster pools, what happened as a result of doing them was that more money-making projects opened up. We were sponsored by the Bloomberg administration for those dumpster pools and we made friends with a lot of people in the city and they’ve been great. These projects opened up doors for me that wouldn’t have had I not done them. So, for example, a lot of the communities that I know at New Lab are made up of people that I met at Glassphemy or the dumpster pools because they thought they were cool and weird projects.

We also built St. Ann’s Warehouse through DBI and we met a lot of people in Brooklyn that way, and they brought us to the Navy Yard. It’s just all sort of weirdly connected, and that’s creating a narrative in retrospect. But I did go through a period of time where I was kind of embarrassed that I did those projects. Now I realize that if wasn’t for those projects, I wouldn’t have been able to create something like New Lab. So I’m really grateful for that time.

david belt, dbi projects, macro-sea, new lab, nea lab brooklyn navy yard

Photos by Spencer Lowell and Samantha Deitch courtesy of New Lab unless otherwise noted

RELATED:

Tags : , , , ,

MOST RECENT ARTICLES

  • Expansive Flatiron loft stuns after undergoing a 10-year renovation by Frampton Co.

    Expansive Flatiron loft stuns after undergoing a 10-year renovation by Frampton Co.

    Located in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, this massive loft measuring an incredible 4,500 square feet was designed specifically by ...
  • Dwell and Target releasing affordable modern furniture; Flushing gets a ‘trendy’ food hall

    Dwell and Target releasing affordable modern furniture; Flushing gets a ‘trendy’ food hall

    Mayor de Blasio signed 10 pieces of legislation related to gas safety to ensure another Second Avenue explosion doesn’t take place. ...
  • 12 alternative holiday events, exhibits, and outings in NYC

    12 alternative holiday events, exhibits, and outings in NYC

    From the swarms of tourists, long lines at stores, and increased prices on everything from theater tickets to cocktails, the holidays ...
  • $1.41M for an opportunity to combine two West Village units into one lovely apartment

    $1.41M for an opportunity to combine two West Village units into one lovely apartment

    Here’s an opportunity for a New Yorker not afraid to renovate. Two small one-bedroom apartments at 41 Perry Street, in ...
  • Former Citicorp Center is the city’s newest landmarked building

    Former Citicorp Center is the city’s newest landmarked building

    Images: Lemessurier and 6sqft The Midtown building formerly known as Citicorp Center has just been designated a city landmark. The ...
  • 10 modern menorah designs for Hanukkah 2016

    10 modern menorah designs for Hanukkah 2016

    Our ongoing series Apartment Living 101 is aimed at helping New Yorkers navigate the challenges of creating a happy home in the big city. ...
  • NYC will have free Wi-Fi in all underground subway stations by year’s end

    NYC will have free Wi-Fi in all underground subway stations by year’s end

    NYC Subway riders will soon be less able to blame their subway commute for not being able to immediately answer ...
  • Condos at 432 Park selling at an average discount of 10 percent

    Condos at 432 Park selling at an average discount of 10 percent

    432 Park Avenue may be the tallest residential building in the western hemisphere and home to the most expensive apartment ...
  • Congress will only cover $7M of NYC’s $35M Trump security bill

    Congress will only cover $7M of NYC’s $35M Trump security bill

    Just two days after Mayor de Blasio formally requested $35 million in federal funding to cover security at Trump Tower ...
  • This $845K Chelsea studio’s sleep loft, brick walls and terrace are dreamy

    This $845K Chelsea studio’s sleep loft, brick walls and terrace are dreamy

    This Chelsea-meets-Meatpacking studio at 221 West 14th Street checks the boxes for charm, neighborhood amenities and convenience, and it possesses ...
  • Vote for 6sqft’s 2016 Building of the Year!

    Vote for 6sqft’s 2016 Building of the Year!

    For new developments, 2015 was the year of reveals, but 2016 was all about watching these buildings reshape our city. Ahead we’ve ...
  • New documentary ‘Tree Man’ explores the lives of NYC’s Christmas tree sellers

    New documentary ‘Tree Man’ explores the lives of NYC’s Christmas tree sellers

    One of the many signs that it’s Christmastime in the city is the sight, sound and scent of the city’s sidewalk tree ...

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTERS

Thank you, your sign-up request was successful!
This email address is already subscribed, thank you!
Please provide a valid email address.
Please complete the CAPTCHA.
Oops. Something went wrong. Please try again later.