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There is something admirably cyclical about Williamsburg. What started off as one of the industrial backwaters of Brooklyn has metamorphosed into one of the trendiest neighbourhoods, radiating with the kind of creative energy (and overpriced real estate) often used to describe London’s Shoreditch. If Williamsburg was up-and-coming ten years ago, it has well and truly arrived today; but amidst the costly condos and boutique hotels, the neighbourhood hasn’t forgotten its industrial heritage – in fact, a new building wants to help revive it.
Designed by renowned architects Hollwich Kushner – with Gensler as Design Development Architects – and developed by Toby Moskovits’ Heritage Equity Partners and Rubinstein Partners, 25 Kent is Brooklyn’s first speculative commercial building in 40 years. Taking cues from Williamsburg’s manufacturing roots, the eight-story Class A office development is a stacked medley of brick warehouse-sized volumes that are staggered to form terraces along the length of its facades, while the short ends are capped with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking either Manhattan or Brooklyn.
At 500,000sqf and spanning a full block, 25 Kent is by no means a small endeavour, but the building’s ziggurat-like silhouette renders it rather approachable from street level and makes for a refreshingly dynamic structure in an ever-growing sea of glass curtain walls. What is particularly noteworthy, however, is that in order to build at this height, Moskovits had to seek out a special permit with a new kind of industrial and commercial zoning for the area.
In 2016, challenging a plethora of outdated design rules, onerous parking requirements and low-density zoning regulations, 25 Kent emerged as a foil to the forest of boutique hotels and clubs it sits in. “If you want to change something like this to an area that was not poised for rezoning, you have to offer something that is exceptional and that gets everyone behind it,” says Hollwich Kushner principal and co-founder, Matthias Hollwich. And while the rezoning allowed the teams to build two and a half times larger than traditional industrial zoning allowed, it is something else that made the City Council particularly amenable to the project, namely, a striking 80,000 square feet dedicated to light manufacturing.
Set across the second and third floors, said light manufacturing space is to be taken up by “creatives, fabricators, or even a brewery”. And in true Hollwich Kushner fashion, Hollwich also dreams of interaction. Indeed, the practice’s Wendy – a starburst-shaped air cleaning sculpture Hollwich calls a “social activator” – is what led Moskovits to approach the architects in the first place. Now, Hollwich believes that 25 Kent, too, “could become something experiential. People could see how it is created. This is what it’s all about now, you want a mix of activities. You don’t just want to entertain people, you want to give them something that is real.”
For Hollwich, the building’s integration was crucial to its success, so, naturally, the context is what informed both the concept and typology of 25 Kent. “We looked into the neighbourhood, and we really had to crack the building open, engage with the community and create a campus that really invites people in,” he says.
To further achieve this level of openness and inclusivity then, the practice chose to slice through the structure, essentially designing an H-shaped building, where two wings are connected by a slanted glass volume that starts on the third floor. As Hollwich explains, “the slant is also a gesture to make it more inviting”. Below it, and cutting through the now unified volume, is a public thoroughfare that stretches from the Albo Liberis-designed William Vale hotel’s public plaza on one end, to the soon-to-be-expanded Bushwick Inlet Park on the other.
Lined with the promise of retail spaces defined by a palette of brick, steel-framed factory windows and copper-printed aluminium folded cladding, the avenue is undoubtedly an opportunity for ROI. But in a somewhat ingenious way, by slicing through and interrupting what could’ve spanned an entire block at ground level, Hollwich Kushner has ensured that big box stores can’t take up a lease there and paved the way for an effervescent space that captures the social energy of Williamsburg.
Ultimately, 25 Kent has cross-pollination at the heart of its promise. Cross-pollination between industries – Hollwich hopes for objects to be created in-situ, sold in the retail spaces below and “if it’s furniture, make it and use it in the offices” – and cross-pollination between businesses, too. Aimed at the next-generation of tech entrepreneurs, the Wired Certified Platinum building boasts highly flexible floor plates and both wings feature their own circulation and mechanical cores.
25 Kent may well be Brooklyn’s first speculative office building in a long while, but the area’s office scene is far from lacking. With established companies like Cartier, BMW, Vice and Amazon’s photo studios close-by, Williamsburg is already abuzz with creativity, which, as Hollwich points out, means “breeding ground for innovation”. That said, 25 Kent is a strong addition for the Williamsburg residents, too. As Hollwich concludes: “The building creates curiosity. People become interested, then they go there. They see interesting people working in the building. And it will naturally become a member of the neighbours.”
The original article appeared in Blueprint June Issue #364