This week, we got a first look at A/D/O a new creative space for designers from MINI (yes, the car maker). Designed by Brooklyn firm nARCHITECTS, it’s located at 29 Norman Avenue in Greenpoint. Currently under construction, it’s expected to open in the late summer.
If that address seems familiar to you, it’s because it’s the former home of the Brooklyn Night Bazaar. Remember how last year it went out of business because BMW offered their landlord one billion dollars per month in rent and the landlords were like “duh of course” and the Night Bazaar fired their many employees and moved to the beach like your dad’s sad friend? But then also BMW refused to say what they were doing with the space in the hope that people would stop asking?
Now we know. Last night, Nathan Pinsley, A/D/O’s Managing Director, gave a tour of the still very raw space to a small group of journalists. A/D/O stands for Amalgamated Drawing Office, “An homage to the team that developed the first MINI, the iconic automobile,” Pinsely said. It will be a space geared towards design professionals and the general public, according to Pinsley, mixing professional services and public meeting places. BMW owns MINI, and A/D/O is a project of MINI, though the space won’t be MINI-themed in any way, he assured me.
“This is part of our exploration of new products and services that improve urban life,” Pinsley said. “By bringing together design professionals from different disciplines, it will create a really interesting hotbed for future ideas and innovations.”
A/D/O will combine many things, all open to the public or available for use for a small fee. It will have a restaurant with a secret-for-now “world class” partner, a traditional coworking space, an open area with free wifi available to the public for work (“like a coffee shop, but better,” according to Pinsley) which can hold several hundred people, a design shop curated by a secret-for-now local retail partner, design tools like 3D printers and lasercutters, and will be the home of Urban-X an accelerator program for hardware and connected devices focused on solutions to city-scale challenges. It also aims to host public events like design talks, and will offer classes of various kinds.
You might say that it’s ironic when Esther Bahne, who leads the Brand and Business Innovation Team for MINI, was quoted in the press release as saying, “We’re opening a space dedicated to designers because we view design as core to our heritage and integral to our future,” seeing how A/D/O actually displaced dozens of independent designers who sold their work there on a regular basis. But that’s small thinking.
Instead, think about how A/D/O, in the “spirit of collaboration,” will “support its community by providing access to established design mentors, a suite of prototyping tools, and relationships with manufacturing resources in the area so that designers can treat it as a hub for finding the resources and facilities they need.” I would just like to add here that this list of services is exactly what I had in mind for a Kickstarter project in roughly 2013 that would have actually just been a way for my girlfriend and myself to buy a brownstone (the Kickstarter would raise money for the space by promising to provide those services, but really I just wanted somewhere to live). However, my girlfriend thought this was dishonest and immoral.
Why is MINI doing this? “One aspect is the source of innovative ideas and bringing together many different types of problem solvers in one space,” said Pinsley. “We hope that will be a catalyst for new ideas.” Seemingly, it will serve as a permanent brand extension–a kind of forever brand activation as the kind you might see at South By Southwest. MINI is also very anxious to connect it to the history of Greenpoint, not by selling pierogis, but by styling Greenpoint as a mini Detroit, with a long history of small design and industry. MINI has multiple renewal points on their lease, the first comes in three years.
There remain a few lingering questions. In the press release announcing the project, A/D/O refers to “a 23,000 square foot space at 29 Norman Avenue,” the same dimensions as the Night Bazaar. However, A/D/O only occupies half of that space. Pinsley said he did not know who held the lease to the other half, or what was to be done with it.
When asked directly what the space used to be, Pinsley said it was a bakery, eliding the several years it spent as home to the Night Bazaar. When pressed, he did confirm it had been the Night Bazaar. Did he see any irony, I asked, in building “a space for designers” by displacing an organization that was already giving dozens of independent designers somewhere to collaborate, relax, and sell their work?
“We moved into this space with an available lease, and that was the extent of our knowledge at the time,” Pinsley said after a brief burst of nervous laughter. “We think of several of the occupants of the space before as really beloved neighborhood institutions, who we wish really well, and we want to become a beloved neighborhood institution ourselves.”
This directly contradicts what Belvy Klein, the co-creator of the Night Bazaar, told us in an interview last year. At that time, shortly after losing their space, Klein said the landlord had repeatedly tried to put the Night Bazaar in touch with BMW, but was told “we gave them the message but they don’t want to talk to you guys.” Klein’s greatest fear seemed to be that BMW was planning some kind of Night Bazaar-lite. “It’s like we’re kicking the people that really did this out and we’re going to steal the idea and we’re going to corporatize it,” he said. “I mean, yeah, that would be awful. I would be very curious what the community reaction would be if they do that.”