What We Do

What we do


Transport, more than anything, changes a place.”
- John Betjeman

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ReThink Studio aims to improve cities by developing and actualizing transit improvement proposals for urban regions. We pride ourselves on designing elegant solutions to complex problems. This is done by looking at a rich variety of analogous examples, questioning underlying assumptions and thinking holistically. Presently, our focus is on devel­op­ing ReThinkNYC, our regional plan for the New York City area. This project has inspired interest from all over the world. 

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The Design Process
from initial concept to actualization

 

Design is a journey through many places and time periods with a variety stops along the route. Projects can begin in different ways, but regardless of how, our process falls into three sequential phases: Design Discovery and Development, Narrative Explanation and Public Engagement. At each phase we look at the broader implications of our design, and adjust it accordingly. This process of constant refinement of our work is integral to our approach.

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1 Discovering and Developing the Design

The design process begins with the first conversation, followed by an intense period of brainstorming, research and drawing. In many ways, designs are revealed rather than created. Once this happens, the concept needs development and refinement to reach a point of viability.

We then produce formal cost estimates and financing strategies. The inclusion of  this very practical step at the heart of our design process helps to strengthen and refine our designs from the beginning stages onward.

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Brainstorming is a messy process. Every idea begins with an unimpeded influx of ideas and possibilities. By tossing aside false assumptions about a site and its context, it is possible to imagine novel solutions to old problems, to identify as-yet undiscovered problems, and to make connections between related systems and issues.

Our team’s varied background in transit, urban planning, IT development, architecture, film-making, and writing (among other disciplines) is our toolbox. These skills help us find new ways of seeing things and places.

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With a deep understanding of how systems were built and adapted over time, it is possible to find solutions embedded in time tables, switch diagrams, historical juxtapositions, and earlier efforts to solve many problems that continue to plague our cities today.

Our library is as often a clarification of the existing situation as it is a solution to the problem at hand. 

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Drawing is the resolution process of where an idea is transformed into a plan. It is the process of resolving difficulties in the context of constraints. Our designs for the trunk line stations on the right–Penn Station, Sunnyside, Port Morris and Secaucus–show the end result of the difficult process of resolution of the complexities of the individual each problem. 

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The detailed drawings on the right of the ReThinkNYC were produced for a ballpark cost estimate. They the our designs to the next level of detail. They are paired with spreadsheets with an amount for each item on the page, along with backup details of how this number was arrived at. To do this, we study precedents and similar construction projects to understand the financial and structural implications of our proposals. We consult cost-estimating services as well to ensure that our proposals are real and implementable.

Our favorite designs cost very little, benefit many people, and make long-reaching improvements to transit networks. Without a concrete understanding of the feasibility and cost of our proposals, we would not be able to test our design against these goals.

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2 Drawing out the Narrative

Our proposals attain a holistic scale and character only after intense thought, discussion, research and design, and draw upon a library of analogous exam­ples. Yet, we have to con­vey our designs to a vari­ety of audi­ences that have dif­fer­ing lev­els of knowl­edge.

To accom­plish this, we use a vari­ety of tools, from plans, dia­grams and maps, to still ren­der­ings, ani­ma­tions and google earth fly­overs. As we craft our visual nar­ra­tive, we develop many of the still images that populate our final presentations. These visu­als are incred­i­bly help­ful in demon­strat­ing com­plex ideas to live audi­ences, to the press or social media.

Dis­till­ing. Refin­ing. What is at the core of the idea? How can this be most eas­ily con­veyed? It’s a long process as much of the design work is intu­itive with hid­den implicit assump­tions that may not be so obvi­ous to a gen­eral pub­lic.

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Renderings provide a “Wow!” image that offer the project an iconic opportunity.  People associate the project with that image.

They can also offer a before and after opportunity as is the case with the ReThinkNYC to expand LGA Airport into Rikers Island and the Bronx or the proposal to replace Sunnyside Yards with a train station and a park.

These concrete images allow the public to envision concepts quickly in ways that words and diagrams can not.

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The map is the intersection between space and data. Our work is inextricably tied to the spatial relationships between conditions, and it is through mapping that we make this relationship explicit. Some of our maps build off and reference existing maps; others juxtapose disparate types of information to describe hidden correlations and conditions. 

Each map tells a very specific story, and part of drawing that map is uncovering and developing the story. As such, our maps are as valuable to us as they are to the public; making evident what was once obscure.

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Part of story-telling is changing a given condition over time, and one of the ways we do this is a series of images. Each one begins with a specific condition and tests the ramifications of a re-design through each phase of the process.

Whether the series describe a conceptual development or an actual construction sequence, the series is important to helping the public understand the proposal. On an urban scale, this is uniquely valuable, as multi-year projects require an operable and realistic phasing plan.

These images often become the foundation for animations, by taking the drawings we produced in Adobe Illustrator and giving them movement using After Effects. 

ReThinkNYC Trunk Line Series

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Geographic Trunk Line Series

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Penn Station Through Running Migration Diagram

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Animations are an invaluable part of our product. They help us tell complicated stories to people with limited time. Each one of our animations stems from a repeated struggle to clarify complex design problems and multi-faceted solutions. With animations, it is possible for us to coherently share our work with a broad audience.

Critical to the animation is the first step, the development of a narrative. Then we identify, draw, and sequence the images that will be necessary to explain the narrative. We animate the sequences in order to clarify each piece of the plan. This is a critical process as its success is measured by the ability of the audience to understand our work.

The ReThinkNYC animations on the right were produced with Adobe After Effects. The flyover of the Northeast Corridor uses Google Earth Professional in conjunction with After Effects.

Penn Station Through Running Animation

Northeast Corridor Flyover showing the practicality of the ReThinkNYC plan.

ReThinkNYC Trunk Line Proposal Animation

This website was built in WordPress and produced entirely by our team in house. Like the animations, our website is the primary means by which the general public will see and share our proposals.

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A lot of our work is about story-telling and tying images and text together in a revelatory and meaningful way. Booklets are a simple and flexible format for this work, and can be left with people who want to peruse the plan on their own time. Each book is aimed at a particular echelon of our audience, be it people who are hardly familiar with the proposal or people who want to know all the details of how through-running at Penn Station could work.

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3 Broadening the Conversation / Public Engagement

Lectures, media coverage, and social media can all work synergistically together in a self-reinforcing manner. However, our ability to communicate our design largely depends on the quality of the underlying concept. The visual narrative captures the imagination and quickly explains the concepts that we’ve spent a long time researching, designing and perfecting.  Once this is complete, the focus moves towards outreach.

The public engagement begins with the first outreach. With ReThinkNYC, it began with Jim Venturi’s first  presentation in 2014, which led to an article in the New York Times. While the Times provided publicity, this was augmented through follow-up stories in other publications and broadcast outlets.

In the era of a 24-hour news cycle, even a Times story offers limited impact. Social media gives these stories legs, and builds a following. This can be especially effective with Facebook’s targeted advertising.

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ReThinkNYC began its life as a Pecha Kucha lecture.  The presentation caught the eye of a New York Times writer and the idea caught fire from there.  The strength of the plan has been the foundation for it’s recognition, but its dissemination started with this presentation.

This talk was also helpful in gaining valuable feedback on the plan.  For example, we learned that our plan to lengthen the runways at LGA would also improve delays as the short runways require more time between landings than at airports with standard length runways.

Published articles and op-eds relating to our proposal helps our work reach a broad audience, within and beyond New York City. The evolving character of our press coverage reflects the refinement and increasing role our project plays in the public discourse about our cities and transit networks. With ReThinkNYC, the visuals have been crucial in bringing the larger idea to a broad audience.

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Television and radio provides broad general audience outside of the usual transit-based discourse and players. With these opportunities to describe our work and the ramifications of our proposals, we can help the public understand how the actualization of our proposals will improve their lives.

TV Interview: Jim Venturi with Brian Lehrer on CUNY TV, April 9, 2015

Radio Interview: Jim Venturi on the John Gambling Show, May 9, 2016

TV Interview: Jim Venturi on Pix11 with Greg Mocker, July 30, 2015

Social media encompasses the majority of information-sharing today, and it is critical for any public project to have a social media presence. Our project has been widely shared on a number of platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The easy-understandability of our images and videos, as well as the memorable images help this happen more and faster.

Social media is used most effectively when it involves posting journalistic content rather than a website, or other self generated content.  With ReThinkNYC, this has helped us build a following for the project and has led directly to more press.

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