The Architect’s Newspaper

RBW debuts collaborative design and manufacturing hub at former IBM campus in Kingston, New York

The $200 million-plus transformation of the old IBM megacampus just outside of the city of Kingston, New York, into a mixed-use cultural and creative hub reached a major early milestone this week with the official opening of the RBW Factory, a 100,000-square-foot design and production facility for independent lighting design and manufacturing brand Rich Brilliant Willing, better known as simply RBW.

people sit at open offices in a facotry space

RBW’s move from Brooklyn to the Hudson Valley signals a “new chapter of growth” for the award-winning lighting company, which was first established in New York City in 2007 by friends and fellow RISD grads Theo Richardson, Charles Brill, and Alexander Williams. The state-of-the-art facility, housed inside of a 1950s-era structure that formerly served as a cavernous customer service call center for IBM, enables RBW to maintain the entirety of its operations—product design, manufacturing, fulfillment—under a single, collaboration-fostering roof.

“We’ve long been inspired by some of Europe’s most visionary manufacturing campuses that reflect a thoughtful and holistic approach to planning a company’s footprint,” said Williams, who serves as partner and Director of Growth, in a statement. “The new facility will create a space where our operations, our people, and the brand can flourish.”

(© 2022 Eric Petschek)

“Kingston’s history of traditional manufacturing provides a fertile foundation for the innovation-driven industry, which made it an immediate fit for RBW’s new chapter,” added RBW partner Richardson, who holds the title of Director of Innovation.

Despite the move to the Hudson Valley, RBW’s flagship SoHo showroom at 50 Green Street isn’t going anywhere and will continue to act as a public-facing focal point for the brand. The fast-growing company, as mentioned, was previously headquartered and maintained manufacturing facilities in Brooklyn and additional space in New Jersey.

After acquiring the old IBM building in August 2021, RBW quickly got to work transforming the long-vacant space. Local firm Dutton Architecture and architect Neil Logan were tapped to lead the $5 million adaptive reuse project, the latter of whom helmed the interior transformation of the building, populating it with pieces from brands like Artifort, Artek, Fritz Hansen, and Knoll along with custom-designed tables, chairs, and cases finished with solid maple with white Corian tops to “seamlessly blend into the factory’s architecture,” a press announcement detailed.

Lighting both natural and artificial, of course, plays a major role in the transformation of the sprawling erstwhile call center, which, in its new life, features 16 glass skylights, energy-efficient LEDs, daylight harvesting strategies, and dimming controls for additional energy savings. “The building’s new design emphasizes its natural surroundings, spotlighting a connection to light and air throughout while maintaining a minimal ecological footprint by repurposing an existing structure,” RBW explained.

(© 2022 Oresti Tsonopoulos)

Notably, RBW is a participant in part of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability/Research i4.0 pilot program for New York–based manufacturers, an initiative that will support the company as it expands its operations through “digital floor automation, strategy and governance, workforce learning and development, and enterprise intelligence.” As noted by RBW, the i4.0 framework will “attract top talent and make way for RBW to become a leader in automation and data exchange in manufacturing, including collaborative robots, cloud and cognitive computing, and creating the future of smart factories.”

Experiencing a massive influx of new arrivals from the city during the pandemic, Kingston (the old IBM campus is technically located in the neighboring town of Ulster) has a storied history as a hotbed of innovation in the Hudson Valley thanks in part to the longtime presence of IBM, which once served as the largest employer in Ulster County.

(© 2022 Eric Petschek)

The New York–founded multinational tech giant departed from Ulster County in the late 1990s and in subsequent decades the campus, rebranded in its post-IBM years as TechCity, floundered. Much of the massive site fell into a state of disrepair and environmental degradation, devolving from a regional economic powerhouse into an economic liability over the span of just several years.

The transfer of 18 parcels in the eastern section of the blighted site to Connecticut-based developer National Resources finalized this past June formally paved the way for a redevelopment project known as iPark87. (The building that is now the RBW Factory was not part of the sale and is located directly opposite Boices Lane from main redevelopment zone/former IBM campus.) National Resources specializes in the revival of forsaken industrial campuses, its portfolio includes another old IBM complex across the Hudson River in East Fishkill now known as iPark84. Plans to transfer ownership of the western section of the 258-acre campus to National Resources is anticipated to be completed by the end of this year.

(© 2022 Eric Petschek)

The larger redevelopment plan adjacent to the just-opened global headquarters of RBW is an ambitious one that envisions 500 units of much-needed housing (since scaled-back), a hotel, cultural, brewery and food hall, film studio, and more built out over multiple phases.

As for RBW, its newly established presence in the Kingston area comes ahead of a long-anticipated sea change in this booming pocket of the mid-Hudson Valley.

“We’re placing innovation at the forefront of all our projects and letting that mindset lead us,” said Charles Brill, managing partner of RBW. “Whether that’s honoring our B Corp commitment and making a positive impact on the planet and our community, or establishing a state-of-the-art Industry 4.0 factory floor, we plan to be on the frontier of it all.”