London and New York are harnessing smart industries to drive growth in science, technology and research and underpin their respective pushes for global competitiveness. And designing to allow greater collaboration between companies and sectors appears to be one of the main thrusts in that drive, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Those were some of the key themes of the sixth special simultaneous seminar between the two cities in a series called NY-LON, held at KPF’s offices in the two time zones earlier this month.

Eric Gertler, managing director of the centre for economic transformation in New York’s Economic Development Corporation said that he is focused on developing physical assets with millions of square feet around the city, developing real estate like the High Line Park and working on strategic planning and implementation. New York had rebounded in almost all sectors since 2009’s global recession, but Gertler’s department was now concentrating on a diversifying economy, following a fall-off in the financial sectors. This work involves removing barriers for technology firms to grow, including in allowing them more access to public data, as well as supporting firms in manufacturing, fashion and media, all of which were witnessing ‘huge change’. ‘We’re figuring out how we can help all of these industries to transform and be robust industries in New York City’, he said. Other measures include creating 16 different incubators to help tech companies in one of their biggest challenges – finding space, while the department’s applied science initiative has spawned a world class campus to create what the backers hope will be an economic impact of over £30bn over the next 30 years.

London responded with a presentation from Rohan Silva, one of the prime movers in Tech City as a senior adviser to PM David Cameron and now the co-founder of Second Home, a place where people can ‘come together and coalesce’. ‘I happen to believe that the composition of our economy has changed over the last 30 years but our cities haven’t kept pace’, said Silva. Second Home aims to fill that void, allowing for the cross-pollination of ideas from emerging, clustering companies seeking space. The firm is transforming a former carpet factory in Brick Lane – where fashion meets design, tech and finance – with a scheme to encourage collaboration. ‘We need the integration of design, of curation, and stirring the pot. If we can do that, really great things will happen when it comes to innovation, for many years to come.’

The conference also heard from Industry City chief executive Andrew Kimball in New York, who talked about how huge, disused complexes in the city such as Brooklyn’s Navy Yard could be brought back to life as vibrant hubs of activity, where ground-floor retail, transportation and events are vital components. And David Bickle, partner of HawkinsBrown talked about a similar challenge to his practice in reworking the former broadcasting centre at the London Olympics into Here East, a new 1.2m sq ft multi-use space in the Queen Elizabeth Park including accommodation for Loughborough University, BT Sport, and a creative ‘hive’ of studios for ‘digitally enabled creative businesses’. ‘This is a unique time for business’, said Bickle. ‘New digital tools and techniques are disrupting and challenging established models and are creating entirely new ways of doing business.’ To answer this need, the building, and spaces between buildings at Here East have been designed to encourage collaboration and learning.

–David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly