What We Do

What we do

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

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Geographic Trunk Line Series

Penn Station Through Running Migration Diagram

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

ReThink Studio

ReThink Studio