Macro Sea began work on Building 128—which, after years of neglect, was a deserted shell—in 2012. The team took inspiration from the cathedral-like steel trusswork, and approached it as a 1970’s High-Tech Modernist muse—a kind of structural expressionist beauty.
The stylistic period appealed to the design team because of its emphasis on indeterminacy, environmentalism, and a collaborative techno-optimism—it conferred a sense of glamour to engineering, science, and technology. The period also lent an appropriate frame through which to ask: How do we create an inspiring, contemporary workspace for today’s designers, thinkers, and entrepreneurs? Working with Marvel Architects, Macro Sea created a variety of workspaces—offices, private studios, and lofts—with shared amenity spaces like lounges, communal worktables, advanced prototyping shops, and meeting spaces. The architectural team devised suspended bridges from the building’s existing gantry cranes to create connective social and exhibition spaces. The teams took detail cues from the existing building—both restoring and expanding upon the inherited language of the space.
“As developers and designers of the space, we were very attracted to this particular community, which is simultaneously at the top of its intellectual and technological game, while looking into the abyss as entrepreneurs,” David Belt, the founder of Macro Sea, and cofounder of New Lab, said. “We wanted to build for them.”
New Lab’s architecture was deliberately kept black and white to give breathing room to an interdependent range of highly saturated Kubrickian colors deployed through the furnishings, landscape and plant installations.
Eschewing open floor plans and traditional cubicles—as well as typical office furniture—Macro Sea custom-designed lightweight, demountable workstations with quilted wool and wood panels for sonic and visual privacy. Secluded spaces for individual or small group work are interspersed with communal work areas and interior plazas over two floors, thus emphasizing Macro Sea’s intention to strike a balance between the need for privacy and the benefits of collaboration in design and fabrication.
While sourcing furniture by such late-period Modernists as Gaetano Pesce and Carlo Mollino, Macro Sea developed a range of trestle furniture including an LED infinity-mirror reception desk, exhibition vitrines for physical and digital content, and vertical landscape installations. All custom furniture for the project was fabricated in Brooklyn, largely in the Navy Yard itself.
“In designing New Lab, we rejected industrial fetishism, iPhone-ization, and tech 4.0,” Nicko Elliott, Macro Sea’s Design Director, said. “We took an archaeological approach to futurism in creating a dignified space that reflects the ingenuity and integrity of the people working in it.”
A green signature for New Lab was created with the design of a trellis concept that takes large leaf plant varieties to the heights of this cathedral-like space.
The trellis concept was developed by Marvel Architects together with Macro Sea. Made from steel, in reference to the existing steel trusswork in the space, some of the trellises have just a few plants hanging independently to highlight their unique features. Other trellises are completely overgrown and embraced by the tropicals, thus introducing a wild jungle palette to the corporate environment.
A fusion of culture, nature and the timeless qualities of vines, plant selection involved direct sourcing from a nursery in Florida.
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Inspired by our work with the Lowline Project, the client approached us with the goal to create a dimensional green signature for New Lab. The challenge became how to impact an 85,000 square foot space with plants that complement the industrial aesthetic by juxtaposition. The colossal scale of the space provided an opportunity for the living art to unite the visitors experience with an organic spine. This cohesive green identity for New Lab could also evolve throughout the site into different plant presentations, to diversify the experience.
The client’s passion for plants and their essence to successfully designenvironments initiated strong direction during early collaboration. They desired a plant aesthetic that was the antithesis of corporate, so a controlled wild jungle lux palette was born. The trellis concept was developed to take these large leaf varieties to the heights of the site. The trellis also provided an innovative approach to a living sculpture because it could house a depth of several feet in places and showcase multiple varieties of plants. Further, some layers could be left unplanted to feature the trellis architecture and allow for vines to embrace it and frame windows into the trellis and its lush depths.
The dramatic, green machineintroduction that the trellis delivers to New Lab required bold gestures to continue the look throughout the site. Harvesting the abundant light at the reception area, a jungle room was created to entice visitors before being launched into the exciting laboratory of technology. The bridge that connects the site was the ideal focal point to lace with jungle lux and continue the green signature like a vine growing through the space.
That concept directed inspiration for the second trellis which would feature only vines. Much like an urban ruin, or the nearby Admiral's Row, it would eventually become a mass of vines that conceal the architecture beneath it, narrating the story of nature versus culture. In contrast to this, the third trestle would have just a few select plants hanging independently to highlight their unique features. This cabinet of curiosities provides a different perspective on plants as treasures and treats to provide fascination upon examination.
Achieving this green marvel required directed sourcing from our best nurseries in Florida. Unique and unexpected varieties were required to enhance the palette and remind the eye that new ideas were growing at New Lab. 14 foot tall palms were selected and tagged to deliver the ceremonial impact that the colossal scale of the site required. Plants were pre-booked months in advance of installation to ensuretrailing vines and lush habit upon installation. The result is a fusion of culture and nature, where the industrial womb of tomorrow’s technology is softened by the timeless vine at New Lab.