New Brooklyn Incubator Puts Artists and Engineers Under the Same Roof

Janna Levin, a professor of astrophysics, ventures out of her university office a few times a week and heads over to Pioneer Works, a new kind of incubator in the city. Pioneer Works is owned by Dustin Yellin, a resin sculptor in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn. A few years ago, Pioneer Works was an old iron works factory that Yellin acquired and converted into a thinking space. Here, scientists and artists rub shoulders, share ideas, and inspire each other in new and creative ways.

The 27,000 square foot space was purchased in 2013 for a pricey $3.6 million and has since been transformed into an open artistic thinking space that Yellin regards as his masterpiece. The integrated research space was inspired by Buckminster Fuller, Yellin’s biggest influence.

Matthew Putman, a nano-microscope developer, meets with professor Levin weekly at Pioneer Works to discuss the future of his company. Although the microscopes have been in development for years, it wasn’t until Putman met Yellin and learned about his Pioneer Works space that he began to think about his project differently. When Putman opened up workshops on how to use his microscope to artists residing in the space that new ideas about his product came to the surface. Artists suggested an external screen for the microscope so that users could both capture images and use the microscope simultaneously. What seemed like a glaringly obvious addition to the microscopes functionality wasn’t apparent to Putman until he showed his design to a new group of users: artists.

Levin, a black hole researcher, says that the traditional university office environment works for narrow and focused research, but to get creative she needs to get out into the world and see things from a new perspective. When thinking about black holes millions of light years away, Levin finds it easier to think about the abstract when she isn’t surrounded by results-only driven research in the university world.

Although Silicon Valley isn’t yet jumping at the idea of collaborative creative and technological spaces, Yellin believes that once more people see the way his co-residents work, they’ll soon be inspired to change the way they do business too.

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