Built for designers yet open to all, A/D/O provides a unique environment for creative work while also inviting the public into its 23,000 square-foot space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn — to explore the future of design through a range of programming that intends to provoke and invigorate, installations, exhibitions and events. The former warehouse features a membership-based workspace with extensive prototyping facilities, a free communal seating area, a design store and a restaurant by renowned culinary leaders Fredrik Berselius and Claus Meyer.

A/D/O was founded by MINI as part of the company’s own innovation practice and continued exploration of creative solutions that improve urban life.

What is Spirit of the City?

Spirit of the City is a site-specific installation by London-based United Visual Artists (UVA) that probes the physical and emotional response individuals experience when navigating urban environments. The modular system of revolving mirrored columns showcases a dynamic composition of movement, light, shadow and reflection. The seemingly organic behavior is poetically linked to the dynamic activity of New York City. Spirit of the City was created exclusively for the outdoor courtyard at A/D/O.

How did you think of creating Spirit of the city? Where did you see a real need for such an urban design project?

“Imagination and curiosity—the qualities that make us human—flourish in New York City where the stark and intriguing contrast between the built environment and living ecosystem dominates individual observation and behavior. Ultimately, Spirit of the City intends to pose the question – Do our activities define our urban landscapes or do our urban landscapes define us?” A goal for this instillation was to spark a simultaneous feeling of being alone while being constantly surrounded by a dynamic environment. When the exhibit is stationary and you walk through it by yourself, you know where you are, what you’ll see and your brain can predict what will happen. When the installation is moving and you walk through with others, you are instantly transported to a place of unsureness and will see reflections and faces come at you from all angles. Our challenge was to create a design that could spark this feeling of aloneness amidst crowds and movement – something that all urban-dwellers experience. Whereas most designs are meant to elicit happiness or awe; our design sparks self-awareness.

How do you consider that design is a crucial tool for improving well-being in the city?

Cities can often be stark, overwhelming and isolating. Most design in cities is meant to just “paint over” and mask these elements. We think that there are several ways that design can improve well-being; not just in visual designs and installations but in all aspects to actually solve problems in cities. We are currently in the midst of our #WaterFutures program – a yearlong initiative asking designers to help solve the global water crisis. Through this program, we are challenging designers (with incentives and cash prizes) to come up with solutions for reducing or solving the crisis in several different categories that include product design, communication design, infrastructure and urban planning among others.

Can you mention examples in real life of how design has improved emotional well-being of people in the city?

When design can create conversations, intrigue and people begin to actually question their own needs and values – that’s when design can improve well-being. Seeing something pretty, posting a photo on IG of you at an immersive experience doesn’t improve well-being, it just increases social currency. Even though the exhibit has garnered lots of attention on social media, we believe that its deeper meaning – when understood and acknowledged – can create a moment where one can evaluate a parallel of their day-to-day lives to a design or experience. In this, Spirit of the City engages and challenges us to feel solidarity with strangers and to remind us all, as city dwellers, that even though our paths are different, we all walk on the same streets.

More about ADO Spirit of the City here

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