New York Rising at Brookfield Place

From the SEGD Archives:

Wayfinding and brand strategy breathe life into a new downtown Manhattan destination. 

Post 9/11, downtown Manhattan has been undergoing a major revitalization in the past several years that has seen redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, the construction of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, and a new Fulton Street subway station. In late 2014, another major milestone was completed: the reinvention of the mighty World Financial Center—the Cesar Pelli-designed complex built in the 1980s across from the World Trade Center—as an 8 million-square-foot office, retail, arts, and dining destination.

“Brookfield Place really sets a benchmark as the most robust retail development in New York’s downtown revitalization,” says Brian Brindisi, Senior Associate in Gensler’s Lifestyle-Brand Design studio. Working with the Toronto-based owner, Brookfield Office Properties, Gensler was tasked with developing wayfinding and helping to conceptualize a strategy for the $250 million development that houses world-class retail, dining, and cultural programs.

“Brookfield saw this as a great opportunity to take a property that hadn’t been performing that well and rebrand it as a premier destination downtown along the waterfront,” says Brindisi.

Initially consulted on a wayfinding system for the huge complex, the Gensler team quickly understood the importance of transforming the former, notoriously difficult-to-navigate World Financial Center into a lifestyle experience for people working and living in downtown. So hand-in-hand with the wayfinding program, Gensler created a narrative and brand story around Brookfield Place as a destination.

Branding the customer environment was a key aspect of the transformation. ”We went through intensive visioning sessions with the client and really built a cohesive narrative around the premium amenities, world-class dining and shopping, and this very unique arts and events program that Brookfield Place offers,” Brindisi says. The client used Gensler’s brand story in their marketing and PR to great effect in leasing space. 

The renovation focused on opening sight lines to the Hudson River, creating a sense of place, and transforming formerly dark, obtrusive structures into light-filled spaces. Hand in hand with the branding efforts, a new wayfinding system needed to make navigating the complex and its immediate surroundings much more simple and intuitive.

Through interview surveys, visioning sessions, site audits, and architectural design analysis, Gensler established a thorough understanding of how signage and wayfinding could enhance the greater brand experience, and used this information to envision Brookfield’s new space. Design concepts were created to be timeless and to reflect a simplified vocabulary of materials, textures, and patterns to embody the new Brookfield Place personality.

In a survey conducted prior to the launch of the new naming, 82% of participants said it was “not easy” to navigate World Financial Center’s campus and security. To give visitors the streamlined navigation they so desperately needed, Gensler introduced a naming shift across the tower identification and larger campus that reinforces the Brookfield Place brand while establishing an intuitive experience for its visitors. Starting with the basics, Gensler ensured that all entrances to the complex are identified as Brookfield Place, and renamed towers to emulate the existing downtown neighborhood addressing system. (Tower One was renamed to 200 Liberty Street, Tower Two to 225 Liberty Street, etc.)

The wayfinding system needed to provide a strong sense of place; provide clear identification of the complex’s four towers; recognize the needs of different types of users, from office workers to shoppers and tourists; and be intuitive and simple. Gensler took cues from the renovation architects (Pelli Clarke Pelli, with MDW as retail architects and Avroko) for material and scale choices, and gave special emphasis to ensuring that sign locations were purposeful and strategic. “The temptation is always to over sign, and we wanted to avoid that,” notes Brindisi.

To create a “pilotable” landmark building, Gensler conceptualized a system that incorporates static signage with digital displays, smart technology, and custom directory content. Signage forms are integrated with the architectural palette, consisting of internally illuminated monoliths made from translucent resin and blackened stainless steel. The team did extensive typographic studies before deciding on the sans-serif Graphik by Christian Schwartz, an Akzidenz/Futura hybrid that resembles the Brookfield brand type and is contemporary enough to appeal to a wide audience.

For signage fabrication, Gensler partnered with Eventscape, the Toronto-based fabricator with a long list of high-profile retail clients, as well as Design Communications Ltd. and King Architectural Metals.

“We wanted to make sure we worked with companies that had a lot of high-end retail experience. It was important that the signage embodied the brand personality in look and quality,” Brindisi notes. 

After conceptualizing a concierge-like digital platform, Gensler teamed up with award-winning media design firm Local Projects to refine the concept and design the smart technology that delivers digital messaging about events and sales, provides access to interactive directories, and makes venue identification easy. Integrated with the new brand identity, the content management system reinforces the idea of Brookfield Place as a destination and lifestyle experience and provides customized experience based on user preferences and time of day. The goal of the system, notes Brindisi, “was not to bombard visitors with pointless advertisements, but instead allow them to opt into a customized system unique to their lifestyle preferences and shopping habits.” 

High-profile neighbors like Conde Nast are helping, giving the new development their seal of approval and encouraging other well-heeled tenants to follow. Hudson Eats, the development’s food venue, has become hugely popular in the neighborhood, and workers also approve of the selection of retail shops and upscale food purveyors.

“In less than a year, Brookfield Place has become a vibrant destination,” says Brindisi. “It’s interesting that the conversation started with wayfinding, and from our visioning sessions, we identified the larger brand stories that needed to be told. And we got to the idea of how wayfinding, combined with branding, can help envision this new development as a destination.”


Client: Brookfield Office Properties

Location: New York

Wayfinding, Brand Strategy, and Environmental Graphic Design: Gensler

Design Team: Brian Brindisi (design director); AJ Mapes, Matthew Calkins (designers)

Digital Media Design: Gensler, Local Projects

Architecture: Pelli Clarke Pelli, MDW Architecture, Avroko

Fabrication: Eventscape, Design Communications Ltd., King Architectural Metals

Systems Design/Technical Consultant: Technomedia Solutions

Photos: © Chris Leonard

>>For more content in your areas of interest, see the SEGD Xplore Experiential Graphic Design index!

New Member Offer

Click to access the 2020 "Never been an SEGD member before" $185 sign up offer

Upcoming SEGD Events

2023 Careers in Experiential Design
2023 Wayfinding and Placemaking
2023 Experience Washington D.C.