When A/D/O by Mini announced yesterday that it would permanently shutter its Brooklyn location on May 31, New York’s design community came together in solidarity despite being distanced by the coronavirus. The news came as a shock—for the past three years, the incubator and co-working space, designed by Brooklyn firm nARCHITECTS, had served as an indispensable resource to designers both local and global, having played host to exhibitions, social gatherings, and thought-provoking discussions that empowered the community to fearlessly explore the industry’s future. An installation by Jumbo popularized the idea of neotenic design, which theorizes that plump, balloon-like forms in furniture can do wonders for our mental well-being. Water Futures, an in-depth research project about the fraught condition of drinking water around the world, helped demonstrate design’s power and potential to effect widespread environmental change in the face of deep uncertainty.
The decision to close A/D/O came about as a result of such uncertainty—namely, the sudden financial instability caused by a global pandemic that was impossible to predict. Though A/D/O’s mission feels pertinent as the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on our current way of being, its overarching message will undoubtedly resonate. “We’re confident that the idea which has permeated everything we’ve done—the belief that good design can change the world—will continue to inspire everyone who has been part of our journey,” says Nate Pinsley, A/D/O’s managing director.
Surface spoke to a multitude of designers who were intimately involved in A/D/O’s success to gauge what the space and programming meant to them, how it created community, and how it catapulted their careers. Their testimonies lend credence to A/D/O’s mission—that good design can, in fact, leave a positive impact on the world.
Aiden Bowman and Josh Metersky Co-founders of Trueing
On a personal level, A/D/O held a special place in our hearts. It was Trueing’s first studio space (via their residency program) and their support helped us launch our practice with meaningful commissions that would fund future works. On a more macro scale, they were really the nucleus of support for emerging, thoughtful contemporary design in New York, especially for projects that didn’t have immediate commercial implications. In the United States, where there is a distinct lack of funding for the arts at all levels, projects and organizations like A/D/O help fill the gaps to create opportunities. Their demise is really a reckoning, and hopefully a wake-up call.
Alice Rawsthorn Design critic and author
I had the pleasure of speaking at one of A/D/O’s first events when it opened in January 2017. The building was barely finished, but I was thrilled to discover so many New Yorkers converging on the space through the snow, and to see how excited they were to have a forum to share their ideas, insights, and enthusiasm for design. A/D/O has been an engaging and energetic force in the New York design scene for the last three years, which will be greatly missed.
As longtime members of the A/D/O workspace, we were saddened to hear of their closing. Brooklyn’s independent design community has always been pretty scrappy and self-reliant, and A/D/O was the first—and pretty much only—more institutional organization throwing its weight behind us. As an established, well-funded company, they could take on projects and initiatives that were so much more ambitious than any of us could dream of doing individually. We also loved their utopian vision of the urban environment, which they promoted as the source of our collective creative strength, rather than as an obstacle in our path. Even though their three-year tenure is a relatively short period of time, it really feels like the end of an era.
Isaac Kim Product Designer at Facebook
In late 2016, I moved to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, from Toronto, around the same time that A/D/O announced its opening in early 2017. As an aspiring product designer, I worked on my portfolio and job hunt while bouncing around Starbucks for their free wifi. I quickly found A/D/O and fell in love with Norman, the design store, and the open coworking space. I was shocked to learn that it was open to the public, not just for established designers who rented a space there. As someone who had little design experience, A/D/O was pivotal in shaping my understanding of what “design” really meant.
The space provided me warm coffees in the winter and air conditioning in the summers. I completed my first portfolio piece that got me my first job in NY there, as well as my second more robust portfolio that landed me my current job at Facebook. No one kicked me out, even when I stretched a $4 coffee over 12 hours.
My experience of creating in A/D/O and exhibiting “Urban Imprint” in summer 2019 felt like being swept by a strong gust of wind that carried the possibility of invention and innovation! A gust bursting from an exceptionally energetic, vibrant, and creative team led by Nate Pinsley, Esther Bahne, and curator Anne Laure Pingreoun. They formed A/D/O to be a point of gravitational pull for everything innovative, challenging, and thought-provoking. Everyone on A/D/O’s team rendered it such by having the unique ability to draw in and work alongside artists, designers, engineers, architects, innovators—creatives of undefined and multifaceted nature like myself demonstrating unwavering faith in their process and their talent.
Thank you for taking huge leaps into the unknown alongside me and amassing the force that propelled my mind-bending research and experimentation to come to life in “Urban Imprint” and shared openly with the world! Even if A/D/O’s physical doors are shut, its energy lies in its people and that will always keep pulsing! I look forward to working with all the uniquely wonderful talents on A/D/O’s team again soon as we enter a new world that will demand our re-invention.
Sienna Berritto Co-founder of Offline Projects
A/D/O’s closing is a loss for Brooklyn’s design and creative community. Having organized multiple events within the space, highlighting various charities and an array of artists, I came to deeply connect with A/D/O’s mission and commitment to innovative design. Thanks to this space, my career as an experiential producer and a visual artist has expanded to have a new perception of design. On a local level, the impact they made is something that New York’s future creative spaces should strive for.
Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves Founders of Studio Swine
For us, A/D/O represented an achievement of how far design had come in the last decade—that design wasn’t just the tool of commerce for selling more stuff, or even something purely utilitarian that facilitated our everyday lives, but that it could also be critical, foster debates, be a tool for deep research, question perspectives, and contribute towards the possible directions we could go as society. A/D/O also created a bridge between the narrative critical design that has been more a product of the European design schools and the seductive and expressive aesthetics of the New York design scene.
As a space it was unique, with practitioners from a diverse range of creative fields in the studio space, to the tech startups, as well as an exciting program of talks, exhibitions, installations, podcasts, and workshops in the event space. The shop was one of the best design stores in town and offered a direct feedback loop to designers in A/D/O that could test sales and marketing. It felt very much like a new type of space that existed between a college campus, an arts center, and a professional space for fledgling businesses. A great mix of dreams and pragmatism!
We came to do a residency from June 2018 to January 2019 where we were given the freedom and space to develop a new way of thinking for our own practice. We used the time at A/D/O and in the city to conceive a new body of work that we call “ephemeral tech,” which consists of two new works using plasma and fog that culminated in a show called “Wave Particle Duplex.” We will continue to grow this series, which wouldn’t have been possible without the residency. It was a really creatively rich time and led us to new discoveries and collaborations. We have so much gratitude to A/D/O and all the wonderful people there.
A/D/O will leave a legacy in their collaborations and the great content they enabled with so many wonderful and diverse creatives. Finding a way to fill the holes left in the wake of Covid-19 is a challenge that is as daunting as it is exciting. Thank you to the amazing team that made it the cultural powerhouse it was.
Paul Chan Founder of The Coast
This one hurt. A/D/O was the first place I have worked at that truly gave a shit about designers. Our ideas, our creativity was valued above all else. We were given a beautifully raw space and precisely the right tools to do our wildest, most ambitious work. The people at A/D/O were special—everyone was full of ideals and a dash of naïveté. This kind of community could only be built through a steadfast commitment to putting design first. I feel so fortunate to have been a part of this.
As part of A/D/O’s inaugural workspace class, I’ve had the opportunity to grow with A/D/O over the past few years. In my experience, creatives tend to self-segregate. Architects know architects, and illustrators know illustrators. A/D/O was unique because it brought together a wide spectrum of different creatives under one roof. This informal environment led naturally to cross-disciplinary collaborations. As a result of my time at A/D/O, I had the pleasure of working with talented graphic designers like Verena Michelitsch and skilled animators like Guillermo Zapiola. I launched my design studio from A/D/O and was given the opportunity to design and produce an exhibition on neotenic furniture design in the gallery. Our exhibition led directly to gallery representation and new commissions. A/D/O offered us a platform to share our research with New York’s local design community and broadcast our ideas to a much wider international audience.
Wade Jeffree and Leta Sobierajski Founders of Wade & Leta
In 2019, A/D/O gave us the opportunity to bring a dream project to life. For years we had envisioned building out a space for people of all backgrounds to come together and be inspired and overwhelmed with optimism. A Party For All gave us the chance to build a sculptural playground for all ages and a maze to get lost in, as well as costumed performers to ignite and inspire the pure joy of dancing. No idea was too crazy. We will remember A/D/O for the hard-working team behind the scenes that made it all happen and their generosity. It’s a sad loss for the community.
A/D/O meant so much to so many, especially to the young and emerging design community. It was a watering hole; a place that sparked art, ideas, and innovation. The young and emerging design community are arguably the most passionate and important part of the New York design sphere because they are the ones who keep pushing design boundaries; they create without fear. I believe A/D/O was a place for those artists, designers, and creators, and I’m so sad to discover that it will no longer be there for them. I take solace in the fact that if anyone can come up with a creative alternative solution, whether it be virtual or something else altogether, it would be that community.
Verena Michelitsch Graphic designer
A/D/O was such a unique concept that attracted many different types of designers and creatives with super diverse backgrounds. The A/D/O team put so much effort into nurturing this community, from teaching available tools and hosting design-related events to internal parties. Also, the A/D/O store was one of the best curated shops for design, books, and magazines. I’ll dearly miss A/D/O—it felt like my second home.