Welcome to Urban By Design Online! This blog is a notebook of my travels as a city planner, historic preservationist and nonprofit advocate. It's a virtual collection of the many things that I adore, featuring cities, the arts, architecture, gardens, interior design, and retail. Enjoy! - Deena
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Entries in Brooklyn (3)


Touring the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center


The Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center’s (GMDC) flagship project is a 300,000 square foot complex of buildings built between 1868 and 1910 for the textile industry. 

New York City is known as a leading destination for artists, and other creative professionals.  I've often been curious where they maintain their businesses, given the high rents, and changes in zoning that have reduced the amount of manufacturing space that is available in the city.  Recently, I visited the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center (GMDC) at 1155-1205 Manhattan Avenue in Brooklyn.  Founded in 1992, GMDC is New York’s premier nonprofit industrial developer.  The organization manages a complex of five buildings, currently home to 100 businesses that employ 500 people. 

The informative tour of the sprawling building complex was led by Cassandra Smith, a GMDC project manager. Historically, the Chelsea Fiber Mills began operations on the site in 1868, where marine rope was manufactured until after World War II. In its waning years of full-fledged production, the building was used for textile manufacturing.

The City took possession of the building in 1974, when the property went into tax foreclosure. Eventually, month-to-month tenancies were extended to an existing group of small manufacturers, and artists. In 1992, GMDC acquired the building from the city, which needed extensive repairs, due to deferred maintenance.  Within a few years, the building was restored by utilizing public and private financing.  As a result, GMDC preserved the architectural heritage of manufacturing buildings in Brooklyn, while creating new urban redevelopment opportunities in the borough.

GMDC fulfills a need, as industrial space becomes a scare commodity

New York City continues to attract a significant number of design professionals.  In June, the Center for an Urban Future released a study, "Growth by Design," which documented some of the gains made in the city’s creative industries:

Between 2000 and 2009, design sector jobs in the New York metro area grew by 75 percent, with especially large jumps in the number of interior designers (which increased by 223 percent), graphic designers (139 percent) and industrial designers (127 percent).  Overall 40,000 new jobs were added. 

However, New York’s manufacturing sector overall has been less than prolific, as more than 64,000 jobs were lost, representing a decline of 46 percent.  According to research conducted by the New York Industrial Retention Network

23.4 million square feet of industrial space was lost to approved rezonings between 2001 and 2008, impacting some of New York’s most populated manufacturing districts. Significant portions of Greenpoint-Williamsburg, Long Island City, the midtown Garment Center, and Port Morris in the Bronx were rezoned during this period, mainly for residential development.

Although GMDC is located in a rapidly gentrifying community, it continues to be an invaluable resource because it provides quality, affordable space to a wide-range of creative professionals.  The rent averages $12 to $15 per square foot, and tenants are given a vacant white box space to build-out to meet their specific business requirements.   The GMDC is available exclusively for work-use, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  

During the tour, we visited several studio spaces.  The tenants included:

Barbara Campisi's studio at the GMDC

Barbara Campisi is a studio artist who has been in Greenpoint since 2004.  She specializes in site specific installations, and her work incorporates many different and visual colors.  Ms. Campisi has exhibited in the Fulton Ferry State Park, and has had pieces on display at IKEA in Red Hook.

Janine Sopp in the Clay Space 1205 gallery

Janine Sopp was a textile and clothing designer, before she became a ceramics artist. She has been at GMDC for 17 years.  Her work is sold nationally and internationally and is represented in craft galleries, museum shops, gift shops and Judaica stores across the country and online.   Four year ago, Ms. Sopp decided to have other ceramics artists join her.  She created a Clay Space 1205, with the belief that this art form centers on the strength of community.  The 3,000 square foot space accommodates professional artists, and also offers classes to the public. 

A Clay Space 1205 member at work

Clay Space 1205 has also serves as an informal business incubator program.  "There are not a lot of places that allow you to start from scratch.  Some people don't know how to get it off the ground, and start a business with it.  Here, we are able to support each other’s businesses."   Currently member artists come from a wide-variety of backgrounds and market to interior designers, and galleries.  There is also an onsite gallery space that has rotating exhibitions.

Takeshi Miyakawa 

Takeshi Miyakawa, a Japanese-born architect, has been furniture designer in Tribeca and Williamsburg for more than 10 years.  He studied architecture in his native Japan, and previously worked in the construction business.  After arriving in New York more than 20 years ago, he found a job in Williamsburg, where he specialized in custom design, and fabrication.   Since 1992, he has worked as a model maker at Rafael Vinoly architects. He leased space at the GMDC after desiring additional work space for his practice, Takeshi Miyakawa Design.

Takeshi Miyakawa's studio.


Ronnie Parsons (center) and Gil Akos (right) of Studio Mode/modeLab

Ronnie Parsons and Gil Akos, are both architects and professors, as well as the owners of Studio Mode/modeLab.  Currently they have a design studio, and research collective, and teach workshops around the world.  They told the group that one of their most recent commissions was designing office space for a Mexican football stadium.  They came to GMDC a few months ago, and their light-filled studio had exceptional views of Manhattan.

What’s next? The GMDC will soon expand to Harlem

GMDC has been a recognized nonprofit leader in manufacturing development, and many city officials from across the nation have toured their facilities to see how they can grow an industrial base in their own communities. While GMDC has established a significant presence in Brooklyn, they are about to expand their reach to Manhattan.  The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYEDC) recently announced that GMDC will be one of the tenants leasing space in the new building, CREATE @ Harlem Green, a proposed $100 million development on 125th Street in Harlem.

NYCEDC selected Janus Partners LLC and Monandnock Construction, Inc. to redevelop the former Taystee Bakery complex into CREATE @ Harlem Green, providing additional commercial and industrial space to house tenants from creative industries.  If the project is approved, GMDC will be operating 53,000 square feet of manufacturing space to be leased as 1,000-5,000-square-foot spaces for small manufacturing and artisan companies.

Brian T. Coleman, Chief Executive Officer, Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center stated, “We are excited about the prospect of bringing our expertise and brand to Harlem, and we look forward to working with Janus to tap the creative energies of Harlem’s artisans and small businesses. New York’s entrepreneurial millworkers, jewelry makers, metalworkers and graphic artists will benefit from a community where their businesses can grow and thrive.”

More information:


A visit to Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1

The Brooklyn Bridge Park by cbreuk via flickr

A dozen years ago, I toured the future home of the Brooklyn Bridge Park on a class fieldtrip. The site was a jumbled patchwork of vacant warehouse buildings, parking lots, and decayed piers, overlooking the East River. The Port Authority had ceased operations there in 1983, coinciding with the end of an era of manufacturing on a significant part of Brooklyn's waterfront. Historically, it was also the original home of the Fulton Ferry, that linked Brooklyn to Manhattan, as far back as 1642.

On the initial visit, a local Brooklyn Heights resident, gave my urban planning class her vision for the site's potential as a recreational resource. She shared how one day, this derelict space would become a park. I'll admit that I wasn't a believer, especially during an era when the city did not consider large-scale civic beautification projects a high-priority.

Fortunately, after nearly two decades of planning, as well as ongoing legal, and funding challenges, the Brooklyn Bridge Park made its debut in 2010. The $350 million, 80-acre, 1.3 mile park designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, is still under construction, but several areas are now open.

Here is the synopsis of the park plan:

Brooklyn Bridge Park will transform this underused and inaccessible stretch into a magnificent public space filled with lawns, recreation, beaches, coves, restored habitats, playgrounds and beautifully landscaped areas. The Park will connect visitors to the waterfront and NY Harbor in extraordinary ways with floating pathways, fishing piers, canals, paddling waters and restored wetlands. This is the most significant park development in Brooklyn since Prospect Park was built 135 years ago. -Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City

The Brooklyn Bridge Park is a 21st century modern open public space that will inevitably redefine how New York City's parks are built from this moment forward. It has received rave reviews for its innovation in design, as well as sustainability practice. The park's infrastructure has several reused elements from deconstructed buildings that had previously been on the site. Park planners purchased native plants from nurseries located within a 500-mile radius. The landscape architects have also designed a sophisticated storm water management system that meets 70 percent of the pier's annual irrigation needs.

The Brooklyn Bridge Park's manmade topography was constructed with fill from the East River.

Recently, I visited Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1, a 9.5-acre site. This section is larger than Manhattan's Bryant Park, and includes two large lawns, known as the Bridge View lawn, and Harbor View lawn. There is also a playground, and a waterfront promenade. It was built on bulk fill, salvaged from the Long Island Railroad's drilling operations for the East Side Access tunnel project.

The park is surrounded by the most identifiable landmarks in New York City. It is an impressive space that takes full-advantage of the majesty of its surroundings. One powerful vista from a 29-foot hill provides sweeping, scenic, and stunningly unobstructed views of the Manhattan skyline, the East River, and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

The park is an exciting place to visit, because it marries the tranquility of open space with one of the most densely populated cities in the nation. As I walked the series of paths filled with mature trees (although not in bloom during my visit), I even spotted Frank Gehry's 76-story residential tower, 8 Spruce Street. The site contains over 500 trees, including Kentucky Coffees, Catalpas, Magnolias, Lindens, Sweetgums, Serviceberries, London Planes, and various species of Oaks.

New York City is surrounded by water, but its residents have rarely utilized it for recreational use. Unlike other cities where waterfront parks are fairly commonplace, New York's waterways have traditionally been used almost exclusively for manufacturing or transportation. This park is unique, because there are several walkways that led directly to the East River for a boat launch. It is also one of the few places in the city where one can meet water, and actually get close enough to touch it.

Throughout the year, the Brooklyn Bridge Park hosts many events including bicycle clinics, summer movies. and kayaking programs. There are also public tours of the park, and the surrounding historic neighborhood.

The Future: A new pedestrian bridge and park maintenance

The proposed Squibb Park Bridge

Currently, pedestrian access to the Brooklyn Bridge Park is not exactly direct. The Robert Moses-era Brooklyn- Queens Expressway, literally divided the nearby Brooklyn Heights neighborhood from the river. Park planners recently received approval for a $4.9 million, sustainable, 396-foot-long timber bridge designed by structural engineer Ted Zoli that will connect Squibb Park, a small, paved park at the north end of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade with the Brooklyn Bridge Park. It will provide a quicker path to the Brooklyn Bridge Park for those using several nearby subway lines.

According to a recent article that appeared in Crain's New York Business, the biggest challenge that the Brooklyn Bridge Park currently faces is a plan for operational revenue, which is needed to meet the park's estimated $16 million in maintenance costs per year.  A proposal has been floated to build six new residential towers, and a hotel on the park s edge, which is city-owned space. The revenues from the properties would be used for a maintenance fund for the park. However, many area residents have opposed this plan, because it would take away public space. The city has said that it will not give an additional $50 million, which is needed to complete the park, unless there is self-sustaining funding.

I look forward to returning when more plants are in bloom, because I really had an enjoyable time. Here are some additional notes from my visit:

A salt marsh at the southern edge of Pier 1, planted with native plant life and nestled within a salvaged granite seating area, provides a unique opportunity to experience the tidal river, and a boat ramp at the southern edge of Pier 1 provides access for non-motorized watercraft. Granite salvaged from the demolished Willis Avenue Bridge was used to create a seating area along the Salt Marsh.

The park benches and the cladding on park buildings were constructed with Long Leaf Yellow Pine, obtained when the warehouses on the site were deconstructed. This resinous wood is known to be resistant to fire.


Another sustainability project was the construction of the Granite Prospect on Pier 1, made with over 300 pieces of granite salvaged from the reconstructed Roosevelt Island Bridge. Visitors to the park can enjoy the New York Harbor from this vantage point overlooking the waterfront promenade.

For more information about the Brooklyn Bridge Park, please visit their website.

Recent articles:

Work on Brooklyn Bridge Park Could Stall [Crain's New York Business]

An improved Brooklyn Bridge Park Among the Changes in Dumbo [NY Times]


Jane's Carousel

A few weeks ago, after going to the Brooklyn Flea's DUMBO location, I stumbled across this most interesting of urban curiosities. There was a small crowd of people, outside, gathered by a warehouse gallery, staring at a merry-go-round, and I decided to take a picture.

Brooklyn-based artist Jane Walentas purchased what is now known as Jane’s Carousel, in 1984 for $385,000 at an auction. It was beautifully restored after 22 years of meticulous work, and is on display seasonally (April - September) at 56 Water Street. In December 2010, it will make its debut at its new permanent home in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Here's a clip from CBS Sunday Morning, featuring the latest in New York’s many attractions, with a brief history of carousels.