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A card-carrying member of the Manhattan establishment has turned on Bruce Ratner’s starchitect, Frank Gehry, calling his design for the Atlantic Yards project “a large part of the problem.”
In his regular “Sky Line” column this week, New Yorker architecture critic and Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Goldberger slammed the $4.2-billion, eight-million-square-foot, 16-tower, arena, residential and office space development as “enormous.”
In attacking Atlantic Yards, Goldberger has joined a chorus of critics. But by singling out Gehry, Goldberger has gone where few have gone: attacking the very element that Ratner has called a selling point of the project: Gehry’s lush, curvaceous, radical designs.
And last month, the city Planning Commission seconded that emotion, saying Gehry’s scheme would “reflect design excellence and enhance the future urban fabric of the area … blending distinctive architectural forms with more traditional building types.”
Not to the trained eye of the New Yorker critic.
“Gehry’s great [past] success has come from architectural jewels that sparkle against the background of the rest of a city — the Bilbao Guggenheim; the Walt Disney Concert Hall, in Los Angeles,” Goldberger wrote.
In Brooklyn, Gehry’s challenge is to create a mini-city that fits in with its surroundings, Goldberger said.
“Gehry tried to do this by grouping some understated towers around a few very elaborate ones [but] rather than giving a sense of foreground and background, the juxtaposition of plain and fancy just looks like a few Gehrys bought for full price next to several bought at discount.”
Even the project’s centerpiece, the 620-foot “Miss Brooklyn” tower, was too much for Goldberger. Where the Planning Commission praised its design and did not recommend that it be shortened, Goldberger called Miss Brooklyn “foolishly named” and “full of self-conscious Gehryisms.”
And where the Planning Commission said Gehry’s design “would transform an area … into a vibrant new mixed-use community,” Goldberger said that Atlantic Yards looks more like “a single structure spanning multiple blocks than of a townscape that has grown organically.”
Unlike Gehry’s revolutionary Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Atlantic Yards is urban sprawl, Goldberger argued: “It ceases to be an eccentric counterpoint to the context. It is the context.”
But like some others who oppose the scale and design of Atlantic Yards, Goldberger did have good things to say about the basketball arena that would sit near the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
“The arena is the best part of Gehry’s plan,” Goldberger wrote. “Its glass-enclosed spaces bring vibrancy to the intersection … Such exclamation points in a cityscape are something Gehry knows how to create better than anyone.”
But as they say in basketball, Goldberger’s praise was too little, too late. His final conclusion was a slam dunk for opponents: “Ratner seems to have been less interested in using Gehry’s architectural talent to best advantage than in trying to leverage his celebrity to make an unpopular development more palatable,” he wrote.
Neither Ratner nor anyone from Forest City Ratner would comment about Goldberger’s article, a spokesperson said.
But the project’s most-prominent booster, Borough President Markowitz, told The Brooklyn Papers that Goldberger’s opinion counted for Goldberger only.
“When it comes to architecture, I have learned that beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Markowitz said. “Whether or not Frank Gehry is your cup of tea, I celebrate the fact that Brooklyn will soon be home to his designs — not to mention those of Enrique Norten, Rafael Vinoly, and Richard Meier, to name a few. … For me, the success of Atlantic Yards is the affordable housing, the Nets, and a new city center for Brooklyn.”
©2006 Community Newspaper Group
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