Project Review:
A Space for Innovation in the Brooklyn Navy Yard


In 2011, Building 128 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was the picture of industrial decay. Once a hub of American manufacturing with 70,000 workers – where the USS Arizona was built and launched – the Navy Yard was decommissioned in the 1960s and sat mostly vacant for decades.

We spoke to Brick & Wonder member James Neu of DBI-Projects to learn how his company gave a new life to this abandoned industrial behemoth - here's Neu's take.

The abandoned building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard

The Brooklyn Navy Yard invited us to tour the building to see if we could imagine its future. David Belt, DBI’s founder, envisioned the rebirth of this building into a contemporary center for innovation and manufacturing. New Lab would provide a locus for New York City’s design and manufacturing community to gather, with the tools and space and programs needed to address state-of-the-art manufacturing challenges.

New Lab - Cut Away Rendering by DBI sister company Macro Sea

We managed the development and construction of New Lab, starting with initial public agency entitlements and coordination with the Brooklyn Navy Yard and governing bodies. We undertook financing of the project with a complex capital stack of city grants, state funding, private equity, historic tax credits, you name it.

Design for the 84,000 square foot building, down to the last detail, was led by our sister firm Macro Sea. Because the project was so cherished, we were heavily involved in every level of strategic and tactical decisions over the five-year lifespan of the project, from concept to delivery. Like all our projects, New Lab was completed on time and on budget.

Designing and installing the HVAC system while keeping the historic forms and volumes of the building was huge challenge. It had to work, obviously, and not be too loud or too costly to run. We worked directly with the engineers and subcontractors to evaluate and test many different options.

The empty shell, ready for work to begin
Construction in progress in the vast main hall, with conference spaces taking shape

It was no small feat to design New Lab to accommodate single entrepreneurs and growth stage companies; high-tech 3D printers and table saws; privacy and collaboration; controlled contemplation and parties of 2,500.

Today New Lab is multidisciplinary design, prototyping, and advanced manufacturing hub with 105 member companies and 647 individual members. Open desks and work clusters intermingle with conference rooms and private studios. StrongArm Technologies just hosted nearly 100 people in the flexible event space for their product launch. Everyone is connected to each other and to the space and the tools with an app.

New Lab was a true collaboration between DBI, Macro Sea, the engineers, and general contractor. It’s amazing how well a project can come together – and how much fun you can have – with a great group of people.

Seeing the space come alive was incredibly rewarding. It confirmed a lot of what we imagined, years ago, but we’re also constantly learning about how people use these spaces. We’re proud to have built such a stunning home for this community of leading New York City companies working in advanced technologies.