We create warm, welcoming, playful public spaces that work.
J. Ember Design is a public space design and placemaking firm based in Brooklyn, for NYC and beyond. We create great public spaces that work via a process both rooted in your community’s needs and a deep understanding of how great public spaces are managed— this results in beautiful, joyful, functional, maintainable, and durable spaces that meet your goals, truly serve your whole community, and continue to evolve.
With experience in all parts of the process, we envision, plan, design, and execute public spaces in any phase, fully integrated with how they are managed and programmed, and we are adept at strategizing and using a range of tools to do so: from tactical approaches, to semi-permanent, iterative design interventions, to complex, multi-dimensional permanent design— and all steps in between. Our approach is driven by an ethos of collectively taking creative steps to build up mutual community trust, ownership, and sense of place— essential elements of great places. To get there we believe the strongest work comes from collaboration with your team, partners, other expertise as needed, and especially your community, thereby meeting the needs of all stakeholders and constraints: including the community, operators, sponsors, city parameters, and budget.
Great public spaces bring people together and strengthen communities. We love making spaces that bring play and joy, and we believe strongly that all communities should have access to great spaces that meet their specific needs. We look forward to helping you
J. Ember Design is a certified Woman-Owned Business Enterprise (WBE) in New York City, and WBE certification is in process in New York State and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
How we work + what makes us different
Collaboration and Empathy
We will work with your team in a collaborative, communicative way to come up with great solutions. Listening and asking the right questions to get to the heart of your needs, we think deeply about the end user and strive to empathize with all stakeholders.
We understand public space management and usage
Having firsthand public space management experience in the in-house design department of two high profile business improvement districts, Bryant Park Corporation and 34th Street Partnership, we know how important and integral management, programming, maintenance, and stewardship really are. We consider the design of a space and the deep understanding of its usage (and potential usage) as intricately connected. We understand the needs of both heavily-used spaces and underutilized spaces, and are comfortable working within a range of budgets and timelines. We know how to attract people and make things welcoming, while making things really functional and durable over the life of the space. All of this enables effective and strategic design that will work.
Making complex projects achievable
We can reconcile and integrate the needs of many different parameters, entities, and stakeholders into a cohesive, effective, and beautiful solution. We can work with complex operational and programming needs, and when there are projects with competing interests, we have experience finding commonalities and negotiating solutions. We have a great track record of getting and keeping complex projects moving and approved.
Sense of responsibility
We strive to meet not only your goals and needs, but also ask: is it welcoming and inviting, is it comfortable, does it encourage and include a diversity of uses and people? Is it responsible and sustainable?
Great public spaces bring people together and strengthen communities
It’s so important to have access to public spaces in our daily lives; we've seen this so tangibly during the pandemic. They serve so many critical functions, including as connective tissue for communities, building support, and strengthening bonds.
Everyone deserves excellent public spaces
We need more public spaces in every community, that serve and reflect each individual community’s needs, not one size fits all.
People of all ages deserve play and joy
Great spaces enable people to feel free, comfortable, fully relaxed, or adventurous, and allow for a range of activity from passive to active. In spaces like these, people can fully connect: with themselves, others, and their environment.
Design, management, and stewardship are fundamentally intertwined
Good management and stewardship are essential. And— there are many ways to get to a well-managed, well-designed, high-stewardship place, for any size of organization or budget.
We must take care of our full communities for future prosperity
Communities include all inhabitants and their environments. We strive to continue to learn and push toward equity, diversity, and sustainability, so that all communities can thrive. It’s extremely important to have all voices at the table and to create ownership within the community.
About Julie Ember
Julie is a public space designer and leader with 15 years of experience creating vibrant spaces. She is passionate about bringing people and things together— to enable joy, connection, and community. With an empathetic and thorough approach, she loves making sense of complexities to create solutions that are welcoming, friendly, and comfortable.
Before founding J. Ember Design, Julie was the Associate Director of Design at Bryant Park Corporation and 34th Street Partnership. This gave her experience at many scales; she has seen through projects from small interventions, design and planning for programming and events from one-off to multi-season, to large multidisciplinary projects that iterated over many years. Julie led teams designing for permanent
and temporary outdoor programmed spaces, public plazas, street furniture, and architectural projects.
Throughout her work, Julie highly values working collaboratively to build the strength of communities: with inclusiveness, equity, and sustainability. And she is driven to cultivate a playful sense of abandon for people of all ages. To that end, she loves creating opportunities for play in spaces, objects, and activities, and— singing ridiculous songs at musical improv and live piano karaoke.
Julie has earned awards from Fast Company, the Chicago Athenaeum, Industrial Designers Society of America, Spark Awards, and International Downtown Association. She holds a Bachelors in Studio Art from Bard College and a Masters in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute.
Notable Past Projects
Bank of America
at Bryant Park
Seasonal ice rink, holiday market, and eatery at Bryant Park in Midtown Manhattan. While an employee at Bryant Park Corporation, Julie co-led the 3D design team in a complete redesign of Winter Village when it was brought under in-house management, in collaboration with the 2D design team and the full multidisciplinary team. The team's work included the design and layout of the site and all temporary structures, design for events and programming, and construction management / supervision. Julie also designed the 220 modular holiday shop kiosks, the illuminated dasher boards, skate-resistant benches, and led the lighting design.
Know NYC: History Signs
A system of 21 historical signs in the 34th Street district in Midtown Manhattan. While an employee at 34th Street Partnership, Julie designed and developed the sign structures with Ignacio Ciocchini, performed site and installation management, and was part of a three-person collaborative writing and graphic team. Know NYC was adopted by NYC PDC and NYC DOT as the city-wide standard for historical marker signs.
The Tables at Bryant Park
The Tables is a ping pong area in Bryant Park. While an employee at Bryant Park Corporation, Julie led a full redesign, in conjunction with innovative programming, taking it from an underutilized area into a beloved and well-used space over several iterations in several years. In that time, it became more inclusive to casual players, women, and children.
The final design included vibrant color, branding, distinctive surfacing and furniture— creating a welcoming,
at Bryant Park
Southwest Porch was an outdoor food and beverage area in Bryant Park (now called The Porch at Bryant Park). While an employee at Bryant Park Corporation, Julie led this redesign of a temporary amenity connected to a landmarked kiosk, originally in an underutilized area of the park, into a permanent, city-approved space. The team created a pergola, perimeter, and deck that echoed the kiosk's architectural details, and was distinctive, visually light, open and inviting, with integrated electrical and gas utilities. Comfortable backyard-like furniture and heating in the cold months made it supremely comfortable in any season.