Airspace Breathes New Life into Industry City

Airspace (New York) tackles branding, graphics and wayfinding for an adaptive-reuse project spanning 6.5 million square feet by finding a simple solution to blend the old and the new.


An Easy Partnership

Airspace (New York) had forged a relationship with developer Jamestown Properties on several past projects, including one in New York City called Chelsea Market—a mixed-use adaptive-reuse project (one of the first big food halls there)—and a similar project in Atlanta called Ponce City Market. So when Jamestown Properties entered a joint venture with Industry City Partners, they naturally wanted to work with Airspace.

“They called and said they needed to rebrand the space and develop a new logo because their strategy for attracting customers and tenants had shifted,” remembers Jill Ayers, Creative Director at Airspace.

Part of this venture was a masterplan renovation of the entire complex. The intent of the renovation, rebranding and graphics effort was to support locally- made art and products by attracting a diverse group of artists, makers and creative companies to lease space at the site, while preserving the spirit of the place. Jamestown asked Airspace to develop a logo and brand standards and apply them in the building, to the graphics within the food hall and to wayfinding for the entire campus.


Room to Grow

Industry City is a 6.5-million-square-foot complex that encompasses over 30 acres of Brooklyn’s Sunset Park waterfront in New York City. The 16 renovated buildings are sectioned into 500 to 500,000-square-foot office, studio, manufacturing, retail and event spaces. The reimagining and rebranding of the space has taken it from a quiet maker and artist hub to a destination for the communities of Sunset Park and Brooklyn.

The complex includes five acres of cultivated courtyard spaces, a 40,000-square-foot food hall, a coffee bar and lounge, a training center dubbed the “Innovation Lab,” a tenant gym, maker workshops and dedicated bandwidth providing truly high-speed internet. Industry City hosts a variety of events, many open to the public including design workshops, art classes, rooftop films and weekend parties.

Its history and scale sets Industry City part from other adaptive reuse projects, coupled with its unique mix of tenants: from local artists, chocolatiers and distilleries, to international furniture retailers, media companies and even a basketball team. Even with over 400 tenant companies, Industry City still has plenty of room to grow.


A Storied Past

A century ago, Industry City was known as Bush Terminal—for its founder Irving T. Bush. Bush Terminal was a fully-integrated industrial manufacturing, warehousing and shipping complex—the first facility of its kind in New York—and the largest multi-tenant industrial property in the United States.

It was, in fact, a first in many ways. It was serviced by both freight rail and steam ships and though initially criticized, grew to great success by offering economies of scale for even its smallest tenants. By the 1930s, Bush Terminal had its own court system, police and fire departments and power plant. However, the area around the terminal began to decline post-World War II.

The site itself suffered a massive explosion, was sold, serviced a garment industry boom and was briefly closed, before being renamed Industry City in the mid 1980s. A series of efforts to repurpose and rejuvenate the space since then have led to the current full-scale renovation, which began in 2011.


A Fresh Start

The nature of Industry City called for a special graphic and wayfinding treatment—something that would both pay homage to the history of the place and breathe new energy and life into it. Airspace was up for all of it, but the project came with challenges: a massive scale, budget limitations, variation in surfaces and a desire to blend the organic with the industrial.

The current Industry City logo was designed by Airspace, which “was a nod to Industry City’s past,' explains Ayers. “The typeface is stenciled, a reference to shipping containers and the ships themselves. It was also an incredibly functional solution to apply.”

The Jamestown team was—uncharacteristic of a developer—very interested in experiential graphic exploration in the complex. They wanted the brand to be present and cohesive in the wayfinding and placemaking applications, but with a fresh and human quality to it.

This desire—coupled with short deadlines and budgets for the pilot areas to be completed within —prompted a solution which is both old and new. “They really wanted a feeling of authenticity. Painted graphics were a perfect solution,” remarks Ayers. “Hand-painted graphics allow for the messaging to blend in with the historic environment, rather than adding a layer of new material.”


Pulleys and Paint

The Airspace team worked with Jamestown’s in-house painter, Will Van Zee, to create the custom, hand-painted signage and graphics throughout the space. They would provide Van Zee with the location plan, elevations and original artwork, which he would translate into stencils, paint from projections, or even freehand totally.

In most instances it was an exact, hand-painted replica of the layout, but for select locations, it was the artist’s interpretation of the design. Ayers comments: “It was a cool collaboration. We were able to harness his artistic capabilities to create something with much more character than, say, vinyl applied on a wall.”

Hand-painted graphics allowed for application on any solid surface from an uneven wall, to a brick façade or even stair risers. The method and material chosen had another important benefit: The graphics were quick and inexpensive to update as the space was being updated and new tenants were moving in. The immediacy of paint, was ideal, as there was a rush to get pilot areas of Industry City, like the food hall, completed.

The food hall work began for the Airspace team in 2014. There, they used hand-painted text and murals as well as digitally-printed and temporary graphics for up-and-coming retailers. Working with the client, they even created an installation with an industrial rope and pulley there, paying homage to the historic pulley system used on the docks.


Big City, Small Town

The wayfinding the Airspace team completed was not limited to interiors. Exterior brand signage was fabricated in steel over entrances, and the team developed a system of banners to differentiate sections of the massive property as well. Banners on the exterior of buildings help identify entrances, and those between buildings and each street graphically identify various areas by using relevant themed imagery.

“The banners on one street utilized historic photographs of the buildings, the next street used imagery of old tools and yet another centered on a nautical theme. The system helps orient people to the different streets, sections and buildings and softens the industrial landscape at the pedestrian level,” states Ayers.

In addition to developing a branding, graphics and wayfinding package and getting the first five or so buildings completed, the Airspace team had to prepare Jamestown’s designer for the roll-out to the other buildings. For this reason, a strong identity and typeface became key to keep every incarnation of the graphic system tied together, while maintaining flexibility.

If visitor and tenant growth is any indication, Airspace has succeeded in their goal to breathe life into Industry City.




Project Name: Industry City

Client: Jamestown Properties and Industry City Associates

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Project Area: 6.5 million ft2

Fabrication: Will Van Zee (painted signage and murals), Drive21 (banners, digitally printed vinyl graphics and metal signage)

Architecture and Planning: S9 Architecture


Wayfinding, Placemaking and Brand Design: Airspace

Design Team: Jill Ayers (creative director), Rachel Einsidler (senior designer)

Photos: Jeffrey Kilmer


Bush Terminal Wikipedia

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