All and Each: The Design of Brooklyn Bowl
By Dante Clemons and Adam Zoltowski
Issue 5 Fall 2010
Brooklyn Bowl is a 20,000+ square foot, state-of-the-art, LEED certified, bowling, restaurant and live entertainment venue located in the heart of the rapidly emerging Williamsburg neighborhood of northern Brooklyn. The 1889 Ironworks factory-turned bowling-alley/rock venue/eatery, has become a favorite place for parties and social gatherings among people of all ages. Founders Peter Shapiro, and partner Charley Ryan enlisted the expertise of a team of designers: Justin Bolognino, Elizabeth Bolognino and Interior Designer Tristam Steinberg to bring the vision of Brooklyn Bowl to life. Utilizing modern, sustainable technology, strategic partnerships and timeless examples of fun, the team has successfully designed an outstanding example of community wellbeing.
Peter Shapiro and Justin Bolognino spoke with CATALYST about the process and perks of designing for community wellbeing. After only a few minutes of speaking with Peter Shapiro, one of the co-founders of Brooklyn Bowl, it becomes clear that he understands perfectly well how to create an amazing musical experience. He has been in the business a long time, and he has worked in some of the best clubs and venues in New York City. Yet his latest venture is something completely different. Shapiro set out to build the world’s first sustainable LEED certified music venue, and he did it in combination with two additional businesses that warrant their own separate spaces. Brooklyn Bowl, as it would come to be known, is a successful example of the power of strategic design to create community wellbeing through the integration of three distinct businesses.
Music and Happiness
Musical experiences, games and food create more happiness in our lives. From the time we are infants we begin to respond emotionally to music. Since music affects so many parts of our development, it is difficult to locate a ‘musical region’ in our brains. Despite this, neuroscientists have found that humans are “hardwired to interpret and react emotionally to a piece of music.
One study found that babies as young as five months old reacted to happy songs, while by nine months they recognized and were affected by sad songs.”1 Another finding in the same report tells us that our reactions to music intensify as we grow older, leading to deeper, more intimate relationships with the music we experience. We are emotionally rewarded while listening to happy songs that trigger positive memories. The brain releases dopamine, which induces the same levels of happiness as chocolate, sex, and certain types of drugs. Music has also been found to be a helpful treatment for patients suffering from depression and as an aid in forging social bonds through live music experiences. “When you get in a room with people who like the same thing you do, you might create more friendships, a proven factor in the search for happiness.”2 This scientific understanding supports what the founders of Brooklyn Bowl intrinsically knew: music can be a significant contributor to individual wellbeing. However, choosing the additional components of recreational bowling, great food and environmentally responsible business operations has proved to be a learned skill. The real challenge is how to design these multiple components into a successful business model that is supported by its community. Shapiro and his team have effectively met that challenge.
CATALYST INSIGHT: Bowling is the Number 1 participatory sport in the US, according to The National Sporting Goods Association and the Bowling & Billiards Institute of America, which report that almost 54 million Americans six or older bowl at least once a year.
A Walk Down Wythe Avenue
Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has been an up-and -coming neighborhood for years. It is home to many quality eating establishments and bars and has long been associated with an artistic crowd as well as young, creative professionals. Home to the Music Hall of Williamsburg, among other music venues, it has no shortage of places to see a good show. Yet, in its home on Wythe Avenue (also one of the neighborhood’s quieter streets), Brooklyn Bowl has successfully become the destination for adults and children seeking a good time, in a musically vibrant environment, despite all the competition. On weekends, the venue doesn’t close its doors until four in the morning, providing a place for its neighbors to play safely well into the night. During daylight hours on Saturdays and Sundays, Brooklyn Bowl hosts parties of a different kind, oftentimes for children and their friends.
Music and Activism – Brooklyn Bowls Roots
The spirit of Brooklyn Bowl and its mission to redefine the live music experience for people of all ages was born years ago, during the reign of the Wetlands Preserve music venue in Manhattan. Founded in 1989, the Wetlands Preserve was a live music venue and gathering place for environmental activists. Operating out of a former fish warehouse in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City, the club soon became one of the most revered in the country, both for its support of grassroots environmental campaigns and for the talent it attracted to its stage.
“Best Reason To Keep Going Out In Williamsburg: Brooklyn Bowl…the oversized pleasure center” -New York Press Best Of NY
Owner Peter Shapiro describes it as a powerful connection between music and activism. ‘’If you were interested in politics and wanted to really make a change and believed in direct actions, that was a place where you would probably hold a meeting. Where else would you go?’’3 The nightclub espoused environmental responsibility and became a hub for local activists, yet the facility that housed such commendable initiatives was anything but sustainable. Many times, activists would gather to discuss their latest ideas and would have to work around leaky pipes and a poorly operating boiler. As Shapiro described it, ‘The soul of the Wetlands was sustainable,’ but the structure was not. In many ways, the ethos of the Wetlands was ahead of its time. Had the club been founded ten years later, it could have ridden the current popular wave of sustainability from the beginning. But in 1989 sustainable construction technologies were not widespread. The Wetlands’ commitment to environmentalism could only be expressed by supporting the mission of environmentally sensitive individuals and projects. Though the Wetlands would never holistically tackle the sustainability challenge, it would become revered for mastering the live music experience. Nostalgia for the club still exists in New York City and in the testaments of musicians who performed there. When the Wetlands closed in 2001, Shapiro knew he wanted to create a new venue that recalled the live music experience of the Wetlands and integrated environmental sustainability into the design of the venue itself.
In Search of a Venue
In 2007, Shapiro and his partner Charley Ryan began looking for venues that would integrate their passion for live music and sustainable design. Due to rising prices in Manhattan, the two crossed the East River into the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. The former industrial neighborhood was experiencing an economic and cultural boom supported by the influx of artists and musicians who found lower rents and larger living spaces. The two found an ironworks warehouse built in the late 1800s. Though it was a sound structure, the electric and plumbing both needed to be updated. Inspired by the sheer volume of the space, Shapiro envisioned what would become Brooklyn Bowl: a 23,000 square foot venue with room for a dine-in restaurant, a concert hall and a 16 lane bowling alley. Shapiro believed in the feasibility of having three independent experiences under one roof. From a financial standpoint, three streams of income would enable him to subsidize the cost of concert tickets, a definite strategic advantage for the venue catering to the overwhelmingly young adult Williamsburg population. But the initial reaction to Brooklyn Bowl moving into the predominantly independent and alternative neighborhood wasn’t so positive. Several bloggers remarked that a ‘Times Square transplant’ was moving into town. Others likened the new venue to a Dave and Buster’s, the family friendly restaurant chain known for its cheap drinks and video games.
“Instead of a bowling alley that is nostalgic and looking back at something old, we wanted it to be from that time. [Patrons] had to feel like [they] were really there.”
The Brooklyn Bowl Logo, inspired by 1930’s Coney Island themes.
The owners had a few challenges ahead of them. They had to win over the somewhat skeptical community of Williamsburg while staying true to their vision of being an inclusive environment for all to enjoy. They also had to successfully design three business ventures into one exceptional experience. But, the immediate challenge was to transform a one hundred year-old warehouse into a LEED certified venue, a very difficult feat as most LEED certified buildings are new construction projects. With a venue under contract, Shapiro’s next step was to organize a team to give life to the vision. He enlisted Justin Bolognino, owner of design firm Learned Evolution, along with Bolognino’s wife Elizabeth and Los Angeles based interior designer Tristam Steinberg to help translate the concept of the new venue into a spatial experience. The design team approached the project with a sensitivity to context. The local community was rapidly changing, as more young people were moving into the area due to cheaper housing prices. This prompted Bolognino to approach the design concept as a balance between old and new. With an innate understanding that great memories and favorable experiences are guideposts to designing wellbeing, the team selected the old Coney Island as the nostalgic point of reference. “There was no other look we could have gone with, it was so obvious to us that this was Brooklyn Bowl,” Shapiro stated. “Instead of a bowling alley that is nostalgic and looking back at something old, we wanted it to be from that time. [Patrons] had to feel like [they] were really there, but we also wanted to use very modern technologies as well.” All branding elements, interior decor and consumer touchpoints were designed to evoke the fun associated with the popular 1930s summer destination.
Shapiro was committed to making the warehouse environmentally sustainable. First, he partnered with GreenOrder, a strategy and management consulting firm specializing in sustainable business. GreenOrder helped Shapiro to weave sustainable operations into his new business. For example, Shapiro made the risky decision to serve only beers brewed in Brooklyn. This means that Brooklyn Bowl only offers ten draught beers, with no option for a light beer. Additionally, all beer and soft drinks are served on tap, eliminating the waste generated by bottles. The facilty is 100% wind powered and utilizes a sophisticated HVAC system, equipped with CO2 sensors, variable frequency drive motors, and airside economizers for dynamic airflow to reduce energy consumption. The stage floor is made of recycled truck tires and LED stage lights use 90% less energy than the standard alternative. Bicycle racks are plentiful, encouraging residents to forgo the car ride and cycle over instead. LEED guidelines shaped the aestheic of the facility as well, requiring that interior furnishings and materials be manufactured locally.
CATALYST INSIGHT: Successful Strategic design uses constraints as an advantage.
The ‘Transcend and Include’ Strategy
The finished look, all the way down to the tables at each lane, are custom designed for the space itself and support the aesthetic of an old 1930s’ era amusement park. Bolognino researched the fonts, marquee design, textures, interiors, furnishings, and promotional materials of a bygone era and brought them into harmony with the modern day. “Our design strategy was to transcend and include,” Bolognino stated. “It was such a collaborative process. No one can walk around the space now, point to something and say ‘I designed that.’ In the beginning, it was all of us drawing on the floor with chalk, just getting ideas out.”
“you can feel the power of the space when you visit Brooklyn Bowl for the first time.”
The design of the space was thought out to the nth degree. “It’s the dance,” says Bolognino, describing the design process that led to the final spatial layout. That ‘dance’, as Bolognino described it, is the ability to walk the line between moving towards a determined goal while being flexible and adaptable to change as problems arise. The team’s ability to walk that line has resulted in a fully integrated experience. “Ultimately the space made a lot of decisions for us,” Bolognino further explained, “and you can feel the power of the space when you visit Brooklyn Bowl for the first time.”
An All and Each Approach
When patrons first arrive at the venue, they are met by courteous security guards. Custom jackets read ‘welcome’ on them instead of ‘security.’ “We wanted everyone to be welcome here. We didn’t want anyone to think they had to be cool to come here.’’ Once inside the building, guests are ushered into an opulent waiting area.
“We wanted everyone to be welcome here. We didn’t want anyone to think they had to be cool to come here.’’
A large Coney Island-style shooting gallery wall separates the waiting lounge from the bowling alley on the opposite side. Within the waiting lounge is the reception desk, where smiling attendants greet customers, answer questions and take lane reservations. Adjacent to the front desk, a hostess welcomes guests into the restaurant, complete with a full service bar.Opposite the restaurant is the entrance to the main area that houses the concert hall and bowling lanes. A larger, second bar wraps around the corner.
The concert hall is an impressive, column free space. Wood tables and picnic-style benches are arranged alongside an exposed brick wall. A discoball hangs from the open, timber-framed structure above. Instruments and microphones are in place on the stage, awaiting to be transformed by the next band chosen to rock the stage. Worn leather couches and rustic side tables line the half wall dividing the dance floor from the bowlers’ lounge. The dj booth mediates the two spaces, like a general’s post, providing the sounds for the entire venue. Iconic posters from old Coney Island dot the walls, bridging the old memories of fun with new memories being created. From the bowler’s lounge, players can observe the concert hall, bar activity and disc jockey booth. Huge high-definition screens mounted above the lanes show live footage from the stage during a concert, striking visuals or popular movies. No matter the chosen activity: dining, dancing or bowling, the music experience never ends.
The team designed the space with an understanding that each component: concert hall, restaurant and bowling alley, should be arranged to be experienced independently or collectively according to each patron’s preferences. This manifested itself into the details of the layout. The bowling alley was designed to be clearly visible from the concert hall. From multiple points in the venue, patrons can view oversized high-definition projection screens showing live footage of the concert stage. Even as patrons visit the second floor restroom, a sleek one-way window keeps the activity below in plain view. This immersion into the live music experience doesn’t allow any guest to ever forget where he is, even if he has only come to dine in the restaurant. The experience is pervasive.
CATALYST INSIGHT: Designing for wellbeing requires balancing the needs of the individual and the community.
This ‘all and each’ experience strategy was designed into the operations as well. Guests who would prefer to dine while bowling are able to order from the full restaurant menu from the lanes or concert floor. Hostesses shuttle food orders from the kitchen to the lanes. Other than a menu note advising hungry bowlers to ‘eat with your non bowling hand,’ guests are given the freedom to relax and enjoy themselves. The results have proven that the design strategy worked. Any given day at Brooklyn Bowl attracts a diverse crowd of people, not only twenty-something denizens of cool, but people of all ages: families, husbands and wives. It has also disowned the initial ‘Times Square transplant’ moniker as well. Last fall, Snoop Dogg played a sold out show there, something one would never see at a Dave and Buster’s. “People go on a Thursday night and they see we’re serving only local Brooklyn beer and that ?uestlove is dee-jaying and they realize that it’s truly a unique experience,’’ asserted Bolognino.
Experience Holistic Wellbeing
”It’s just fun!” Peter Shapiro stated when asked how music, bowling, and good food contribute to wellbeing. Through the use of strategic design Shapiro, Bolognino and Learned Evolution have created a venue that is fun, aesthetically pleasing, and ultimately a sound business. They have designed it to be environmentally responsible and invited all members of the community to participate, directly contributing to the wellbeing of the community of Williamsburg. Shapiro was able to create a holistically sustainable venue that the Wetlands almost was, while integrating two novel business concepts along with it. As the first of its kind in the world, Brooklyn Bowl serves as a model that other music venues and recreational businesses can aspire to. Choosing not to wear its virtue on its sleeve, there is no sign outside that say’s 100% wind powered, it leads by example. The residents of Williamsburg are appreciative. They have another stellar example of community wellbeing to call their own.
The Critical Components of Brooklyn Bowl
- 600 capacity flexible event space with 35’ x 20’ corner performance stage
- Private, furnished green room with restroom and shower
- 5-zone JBL Vertec audio system designed by including 32 fill speakers
- Dee Jay Booth with media library, Pioneer DVJs & SVM-1000 with Technics 1210s
- 16 new Qubica/AMF bowling lanes with digital scoring
- Nine-screen High-Definition video projection system with Crestron controls
- Elevated bowler’s lounge with unobstructed sight-lines and plush leather furniture
- Food by local favorite Blue Ribbon. Dishes were designed specifically for Brookyln Bowl patrons
- Seating for 250 patrons.
- 2 large hand-crafted bars with wood, steel, and ironwork features
- Custom steelwork was manufactured by local craftsman Rob Ferra, of Ferra Design in Brooklyn
- Commitment to only serve local beers, brewed in Brooklyn. Kelsa, 6 Point and Brooklyn Brewery. (owner Steve Hindi) Brooklyn Bowl is now the number one seller of Brooklyn Beer in the city.
- Offers free or discount tickets to live shows, often for $5.00
- Kid-friendly daytime hours during the weekends
- Charley Ryan, general manager of the wetlands
- Peter Shapiro, filmmaker, co-owner of the Wetlands Preserve. Co-founder of GreenOrder, sustainable business consultancy
- Tristam Steinburg, Interior Designer of Record
- Justin Bolognino, Brooklyn Bowl Media Director, Owner of Learned Evolution
- Elizabeth Bolognino, Conceptual Design, Justin’s wife.
Brooklyn Bowl is the first LEED. Certified bowling alley in the world. Green Design features include:
- 100% Wind-powered electricity
- Forest Stewardship Counsel (FSC) Chain of Custody controlled wood
- Pin-spotters use 75% less energy than a typical pin-spotter
- No bottles, no cans. All soft drinks and beers are on tap.
- 10 draught beers are all brewed locally in Brooklyn, New York.
- LED stage lights use 90% less energy than the typical draw
- Energy Star Certification wherever possible
- HVAC Johnson Controls are the most efficient units available
- HVAC also features CO2 sensors, variable frequency drive, air-side economizers. Four “Big Ass Fans” brand ten-foot fans to augment HVAC system
- 100% reclaimed cork floors in Bowler’s Lounge
- Stage floor is 100% recycled truck tires
- 30+ capacity bike racks
- 16 trees planted in and around property
- Ancient glass from Brooklyn Navy Yard reclaimed and remade as design features
- Soy-based, zero VOC primer/sealer for mezzanine and waterproofing walls
- Reclaimed 200-year-old floor boards used to face both bars
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
Designing Community Wellbeing
»Have a mission that the community can buy into.
»Design with the social and financial needs of the community in mind.
»Foster a sense of inclusion among patrons to evoke fun amongst participants,
»Revive popular memories of what fun means.
» Design methods to subsidize costs.
»Use your constraints as an advantage.
About the Founders:
Independent music and film entrepreneur Peter Shapiro’s varied career has thus far been marked by two things: a desire to create films, TV specials and events that span the musical spectrum, and a need to continue to push the envelope with each new project. In 1997, Shapiro became the owner of the celebrated downtown New York live music venue, Wetlands Preserve. An environmentally friendly and eclectic home for everything from punk and hardcore to hippie-rock and reggae, Wetlands was hailed as a “landmark rock club” by Rolling Stone and hosted the first NYC performances by the likes of Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Rage Against the Machine, and Oasis. A feature-length documentary film documenting the history and story of Wetlands played numerous leading film festivals and premiered on the Sundance Channel in July, 2008.
Peter also created and is the executive producer of the annual Green Apple Festival, which over the past three years has become the largest Earth Day event in America. On April 20th, 2008, 200,000 people attended simultaneous Green Apple events in landmark parks in 8 cities across the U.S. In June, 2009 he opened Brooklyn Bowl, a 20,000+ square foot live music venue/bowling alley located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that he spent more than two years developing. Rolling Stone described the venue as “one of the greatest places on Earth”. Brooklyn Bowl is the first bowling alley in the world to receive LEED certification for green construction. Peter is a co-founder of the environmental consulting firm Green Order (with his other brother, Andrew); a co-founder of the environmental information website GreenYour.com; a co-owner of the popular Slipper Room lounge on Manhattan’s Lower East Side; a founding Board member of the voter registration group, Headcount, and a member of the Arts Committee of the City Parks Foundation’s Board of Directors.
Media producer, entrepreneur, and conscious evolution philosopher Justin Bolognino stands at the forefront of New York City’s next generation of cultural creators. At the helm of his boutique experiential marketing firm aptly named Learned Evolution, Bolognino is one of the creative visionaries behind some of the city’s most vital and vibrant offerings including Brooklyn Bowl, Eclectic Method, and the Vimeo Festival & Awards–to name a few. Learned Evolution develops and produces experiential marketing initiatives by integrating emerging technologies and innovative media platforms with the human energy of live, interactive events. From concept creation to ?nal execution, LE’s intelligent and forward-thinking campaigns reach and deliver an audience focused on Growing Media for Growing Minds. Founded in 2004, LE collaborates with organizations and artists who share a commitment to positive cultural and environmental development through thoughtful media.
1. Wetlands Preserve: http://www.wetlands-preserve.org/
2. Brooklyn Bowl website: http://www.brooklynbowl.com/
3. Blue Ribbon: http://www.blueribbonrestaurants.com/
4. LEED Requirements: http://www.usgbc.org/DisplayPage.aspx?CMSPageID=222
5. GreenOrder: http://www.greenorder.com
1.Live Science (2008). Babies Know Happy From Sad Songs.
2.Edmonds, Molly (2010). Is There a Link Between Music and Happiness? Howstuffworks.com. Retrieved from http://health.howstuffworks.com/human-nature/emotions/happiness/science/music-and-happiness.htm/printable