A steel and aluminum tunnel
The tunnel, with a steel and aluminum structure, was inspired by a mountainous landscape and folds of fabric.

Camber Studio Designs an Exercise Center Fit for a General in Brooklyn, New York

In 2003, Wes Rozen snuck inside an abandoned shipbuilding facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The long-decommissioned site, along New York’s East River, was transforming into a hub for creative and manufacturing businesses. But some structures were still dilapidated. Rozen, then an architecture student at the Cooper Union, was helping to plan and design a facility in the Yard for Crye Precision, a start-up military-gear manufacturer. After hours, he slipped into the building through a broken door and saw a 70-foot-high ceiling with shattered clerestory windows and a massive hall filled with old machines. “The place was falling apart and full of holes,” the Camber Studio principal remembers.

Today, that 87,000-square-foot building, since renovated by MN Design Professional Corporation, is Crye’s headquarters. Recently, executive director Gregg Thompson invited Rozen back to design the workplace’s amenity spaces, including a fitness center, for Crye’s 240 employees. “Wes knew the building better than anyone,” Thompson says. And Rozen certainly understood the difficulty of installing a gym there. Crye, now a major supplier of body armor and combat apparel for the U.S. Armed Forces, manufactures almost everything on-site; by law, military garb must be made domestically. Two floors of offices and sewing rooms line the sides of the building, and the 470-foot-long hall is used for storage. The best space for the gym was on top of two rooms in the center of the hall, which connect to the site’s mezzanine via a bridge.

panels of prefinished plywood embedded with LED strips form a tunnel connecting two sides of an employee exercise center
At the Brooklyn, New York, headquarters of Crye Precision, a military-gear maker, panels of prefinished plywood embedded with LED strips form a tunnel connecting two sides of an employee exercise center, an addition by Camber Studio, the diamond motif alluding to the stitches on the garments manufactured on-site.

“It’s unusual to have a gym in the middle of an industrial space,” Rozen notes. “The challenge was making it private, while designing something with scale that would hold the spotlight.” It made an intriguing first commission for Camber, a design and fabrication workshop in nearby Red Hook. A co-founding partner of SITU, which coincidentally is also located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Rozen left after 13 years to launch Camber in 2018. His new firm focuses on unique projects at the intersection of art and architecture, and is named after the term for to arch slightly. At Crye, the two rooftops act as plinths for a sculptural, origamilike structure of black prefinished plywood. “Since this was an interior buildout, we didn’t have to worry about outdoor elements, so we could have fun,” Rozen says.

It helped to have a supportive client: Thompson requested a gym, but was otherwise open to ideas. Early on, the architect suggested adding flex spaces to five empty balconies once used for unloading cranes; one is now a small kitchen and the others are informal work and meeting nooks. After surveying employees, Rozen fleshed out the program for the gym: a yoga studio on one side, a fitness center with a climbing wall on the other, and a tunnel over the bridge in between. All told, the amenities add 5,000 square feet.

A rock climbing wall
For the tunnel, which incorporates a climbing wall, 1-inch-deep slots were milled in the plywood and plastic hinges inserted so the material could fold.

The Camber team members started by thinking about visibility and camouflage, like an army would. They identified viewpoints throughout the hall that form a network of sight lines, then placed windows accordingly. Shaped like a cone, the openings privilege the viewer on the inside, much like those in a castle or a bunker wall. “When you’re inside the amenity space and close to the window, the cone matches your line of sight and the view feels expansive,” Rozen explains. Camber also created shutters that gym users can close or open for more or less privacy.

The plywood cladding references the garment manufacturing happening within the building. A repeating diamond motif, engraved with a CNC router, gestures to stitches, measurements, and sewing patterns. “People actually make things here, so it speaks to that craftsmanship,” Rozen says. The walls, bolted to a steel parapet, are about 1 foot off the main gym structure and hang like clothes on a body. “We considered how to make plywood as fabriclike as possible,” he says. For the tunnel, Camber added hinges so the material can fold and drape over a steel-and-aluminum armature as well as, on one side, myriad colorful holds for the climbing wall.

People doing yoga on the flooring of natural ash planks
Storage drawers are tucked inside the bleachers, and the studio’s 10-foot-high mirror fronts a closet; flooring is natural ash planks.

With an undulating roof, the tunnel also takes inspiration from something farther afield: the mesas and moun­tains of the American West, where Rozen grew up. Camber envisioned it as a contrast to the urban surroundings that nods to landscapes where soldiers spend much of their time. The shell is flat by the yoga studio and rises toward the climbing wall, its geometry derived from a spot on the rim of the Grand Canyon where the desert meets a rocky valley. Inside, the space feels both futuristic and cavelike, creating what Rozen conceived as a moment of compression within the expansive hall. Cutouts bring in light but blur people within.

Camber prefabricated most of the plywood components in its workshop and assembled them at Crye. Starting with large mockups, the team worked out the geometry for the folds with the help of structural engineers and a Grasshopper CAD programmer. “The computation for the tunnel is super heavy and complex,” Rozen admits. For Thompson, the equations add up to a deconstructed form that “changes and breaks apart visually,” as if alluding to the site’s formerly ruined state. “It’s abstract, dramatic, and works well,” he says. Most importantly, the amenities are heavily used—busy with tai chi classes and breakout sessions.

Cutouts in the plywood bring light inside the tunnel and create a pattern like a mineral vein in rock.
Cutouts in the plywood bring light inside the tunnel and create a pattern like a mineral vein in rock.
Plywood bleachers line the exercise center.
Plywood bleachers line the exercise center.
Monstera, ferns, and ivy grow inside custom steel planters,
Monstera, ferns, and ivy grow inside custom steel planters, which are encased in prefinished Baltic birch plywood.
A window in the yoga studio looks into the tunnel.
A window in the yoga studio looks into the tunnel.
Cone-shape windows privilege the view of those inside.
Cone-shape windows privilege the view of those inside.
The excercise center volume sits atop Crye’s shipping-and-receiving rooms
The excercise center volume sits atop Crye’s shipping-and-receiving rooms in the middle of an early 20th–century, former shipbuilding facility in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
semi-enclosed flex spaces for small meetings or lunch
The commission also entailed transforming five empty balconies into semi-enclosed flex spaces for small meetings or lunch.
the exercise center is filled with weights
The exercise center was programmed with input from Crye-sponsored athletes, such as skydiver Jeff Provenzano, a member of the Red Bull Air Force team.
A steel and aluminum tunnel
The tunnel, with a steel and aluminum structure, was inspired by a mountainous landscape and folds of fabric.
For privacy, employees can adjust shutters in the same wood, which open to boxes of garments in Crye’s central hall.
For privacy, employees can adjust shutters in the same wood, which open to boxes of garments in Crye’s central hall.
PROJECT TEAM
Camber Studio: zach mulitauaopele; sean miller; julia dipietro; james coleman; ben mosca; christopher white
laufs engineering design: structural engineer
kammetal: metalwork
situ fabrication; tri-lox: woodwork
verdant: landscape design
PRODUCT SOURCES
THROUGHOUT
North American Plywood: prefinished plywood
metolius: climbing wall holds
TRX: battle ropes
rogue fitness: fitness equipment

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