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Like the new Yards arena? That’s too bad, because it will change when the economy improves

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Enjoy the new renderings of the Barclays Center while you can — because if the economy gets back on track, the look of the rippling steel building will be altered radically to include new buildings, including one atop the arena’s signature entrance way.

That was the main bit of news from Monday night’s presentation by the architecture team behind developer Bruce Ratner’s proposed basketball arena at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

Before a crowd of nearly 150 architecture and urban planning professionals, Bill Crockett of the large Midwestern firm Ellerbe Becket, and Gregg Pasquarelli of the Manhattan firm, SHoP Architects, which joined the design team in June to diffuse outrage over the firing of original designer Frank Gehry, presented the design in greater detail than last week’s rendering release.

One thing they didn’t say was what they call it.

Both designers squirmed uncomfortably when moderator Rick Bell of the Center for Architecture mentioned other stadia around the world, such as the famed “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing, and asked what nickname they would give to their own design.

Neither even joked an answer, lest the name stick to a building that some have likened to a George Foreman grill, a baseball cap, a waffle iron, a deflated basketball and a clamshell.

The biggest bombshell of the night was the explanation that the freshly drafted design would be radically altered to make room for the so-called Miss Brooklyn tower, officially building B-1, that would stand at the actual intersection of the busy avenues.

Gehry had designed that tower to be an iconic gateway to the rest of the project, fronted by a 10-story, glass-walled “Urban Room” that would function both as a public atrium, a route to the subway stations below and an entrance to the arena.

In the current design scheme, that area is an open plaza below a canopy (the bill of the baseball cap, if you will) with a large hole cut into it.

But if building B-1 is ever built, the canopy, which Pasquarelli had called a “grand urban gesture,” would likely be removed, he said.

And on the Dean Street and Sixth Avenue sides of the building, the designers’ current rendering features open plazas that would also give way to tall towers if the economy improves and Ratner achieves his current vision of a basketball arena flanked by four mostly residential buildings.

Phase 2 of the project, which includes the public open space, the vast majority of the below-market-rate housing, and other public benefits is currently off the table until the economy further improves.

Other details emerged from the session:

• Of the limited retail space on the ground floor of the arena, the largest space is reserved for a team store on Flatbush Avenue.

• Basketball fans will still be able to see the scoreboard from the street during games, a key Gehry design.

• Advertising signage has been dramatically scaled back from Gehry’s scheme, which called for 150-foot billboards on either side of the “Urban Room.”

• The architects have signed onto Ratner’s optimistic timeline of breaking ground in December and then finishing the entire building in 26 months so that it can be of use during the 2011-12 basketball season.

A brief argument ensued after the question and answer session. The designers themselves were spirited away from reporters after the session by a spokesman for Ratner, so some members of the public took out their hostilities on moderator Bell for omitting any questions about the development process, sticking only to design issues.

As a small group berated Bell for that decision, Ron Shiffman, a former city planning commissioner and an opponent of Atlantic Yards, told reporters that the moderator should have allowed some “process” questions because the process by which Atlantic Yards came about was so ugly that it can not be beautified simply with good architecture.

“There is an ethical part of architectu­re,” Shiffman said. “Do you take any commission?”

He conceded that communities “are not always right,” but hastened to add that “these architects had a responsibility to talk to opponents and understand the issues before putting out renderings that are now being used as a marketing scheme for the developer.

“This project is removing people from property that they own and on the basis of a flawed finding of blight, so they should have turned down the commission.”

Earlier in the evening, Pasquarelli unintentionally addressed Shiffman.

“We love this city dearly,” he said. “Suburban arenas are like nuclear reactors in a parking lot. This arena is nothing like that.”

Updated 6:22 pm, September 17, 2009: Story was changed to update the headline.
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Reader Feedback

sam from downtown says:
No, Mr. Pasqaurelli is correct, this arena is a like a nuclear reactor on top of a neighborhood.

anyway, the arena has as much of a chance of being built as the Nets do of winning a championship.
Sept. 15, 2009, 8:45 am
Peter from Fort Greene says:
Hmmm... a giant erected building with a deflated ball-sack of an arena attached to it. Remind you of anything? You're screwed Brooklyn, if this mess gets made.

Go Tish James!
Sept. 15, 2009, 10:32 am
Paul from Park Slope says:
Well, ShOP has now officially made their intentions clear: enough with the ivory tower and trying to make it on winning "design competitions." Work for hire "but ours will be remarkable." And nothing declares your ho-status like a Ratner quickie!
Sept. 15, 2009, 10:54 am
Charles Boxenbaum from Park Slope says:
The discussion of the stadium's design is being limited to it appearance. In fact, the problem is not its appearance but its location.

I cannot think of a single, stadium, amphiteatheater, or similarly functioning building ever put at the major crossroads of a town. There are good reasons for this which were probably learned from the failures of others. However, we s have become too smart to learn from the past - particularly when money is involved.
Sept. 18, 2009, 3:40 pm
sid from Boerum Hill says:
yes they never build stadiums downtown- right by major cross roads. You obviously have never been to Madison Square Garden or the Baltimore stadium to name two.....
Sept. 19, 2009, 1:19 pm
Charles Boxenbaum from Park Slope says:
Sid,

I didn't say that "they" don't build stadiums downtown. I am saying that historically, there isn't a great city in the world that has such a building type at "the" major crossroads. No one would ever say that the current Garden or any of its predecessors was at what the Romans called the Cardo and Decumenus of New York. Perhaps there are and/or have been attempts to have this building type at such a location, but as an architect, I can think of none that have survived while the urban fabric surrounding it thrived.

I don't know Baltimore, but I suspect whichever stadium your talking about there, is also not at Baltimore's core crossing. If it is, I think that in time either the surrounding neighborhood will collapse into lesser uses or the stadium will be torn down and replaced with uses more supportive of urban life.

I think a reasonable argument could be made that Flatbush and Atlantic is THE major intersection of the borough. Putting a stadium there is inimical with the needs of a vital urban core.
Sept. 21, 2009, 12:09 pm
sid from Boerum Hill says:
The Baltimore stadium is in its downtown area. The Brooklyn Arena is being built in an area that may be the cross roads of the mass transit but since it has been vacant space for 100 years has been available. Stadiums are always built were there is space available and close to its center. No one would consider Atlantic and Flatbush Brooklyn's center. Most stadiums have been built at least recently with Mass transit in mind. No one else wants the arena either and other places would require new roads and new mass transit-the worst of all worlds.
Sept. 21, 2009, 3:28 pm
Charles Boxenbaum from Park Slope says:
Although you can say that "No one would consider Atlantic and Flatbush Brooklyn's center", I think you would find that many people do in fact see it as the crossing of the borough's arguably two prime arteries. Having been born in Brooklyn 67 years ago, I know it hasn't "been vacant space" for almost all that time - not until the current developers emptied it.

You may be correct, though, in that recently most stadiums have been built with mass transit in mind. My point, however, is that if you look historically at great cities, none have this building type at their center. And I would argue that the reason is because they create a void in the urban fabric. Because politicians and developers get into bed together to build such things doesn't change that. It only defers paying the price in terms of urban life. As I pointed out before, the streets around the Garden(s) have in my lifetime always been dead as far as pedestrian and urban interest.

You in fact make my argument in your last sentence. As you say, "No one else wants the arena either" The reason is because they know it will kill their neighborhood too. The key is to find a location where there is can be some symbiosis with the other elements that make up that neighborhood.

Finally, the proponents of this scheme have tried to sell it in terms convenient transportation. Unfortunately, our country's landscape is littered with stadiums and parking lots built on just this argument. If you think that this stadium won't generate dozens of parking garages and lots, then as you said earlier to me, you haven't been to Madison Square Garden which sits on an even bigger public transportation hub and is engulfed in them. And maybe it's not such a bad idea to build some new mass transportation to make a new stadium in a more appropriate location viable. (Maybe we can even get the developer to participate in the cost of doing so for a change rather than having the taxpayer always subsidizing the developer.)

The essential question I am raising is whether alleged transportation convenience is more important than the vitality and viability of one of the City's core intersections and a critical one for Brooklyn's health. My answer is, no.
Sept. 21, 2009, 7:38 pm
Charles Boxenbaum from Park Slope says:
Although you can say that "No one would consider Atlantic and Flatbush Brooklyn's center", I think you would find that many people do in fact see it as the crossing of the borough's arguably two prime arteries. Having been born in Brooklyn 67 years ago, I know it hasn't "been vacant space" for almost all that time - not until the current developers emptied it.

You may be correct, though, in that recently most stadiums have been built with mass transit in mind. My point, however, is that if you look historically at great cities, none have this building type at their center. And I would argue that the reason is because they create a void in the urban fabric. Because politicians and developers get into bed together to build such things doesn't change that. It only defers paying the price in terms of urban life. As I pointed out before, the streets around the Garden(s) have in my lifetime always been dead as far as pedestrian and urban interest.

You in fact make my argument in your last sentence. As you say, "No one else wants the arena either" The reason is because they know it will kill their neighborhood too. The key is to find a location where there is can be some symbiosis with the other elements that make up that neighborhood.

Finally, the proponents of this scheme have tried to sell it in terms convenient transportation. Unfortunately, our country's landscape is littered with stadiums and parking lots built on just this argument. If you think that this stadium won't generate dozens of parking garages and lots, then as you said earlier to me, you haven't been to Madison Square Garden which sits on an even bigger public transportation hub and is engulfed in them. And maybe it's not such a bad idea to build some new mass transportation to make a new stadium in a more appropriate location viable. (Maybe we can even get the developer to participate in the cost of doing so for a change rather than having the taxpayer always subsidizing the developer.)

The essential question I am raising is whether alleged transportation convenience is more important than the vitality and viability of one of the City's core intersections and a critical one for Brooklyn's health. My answer is, no.
Sept. 21, 2009, 7:38 pm
John from Ditmas Park says:
Boxenbaum: Are you suggesting that the proposed location of the arena is currently vital and viable? Is not that stretch of Atlantic Avenue more lifeless and dull than the area around Madison Square Garden will ever be? Must this location remain ever undeveloped? I remember the shrieks and howls of outrage at previous proposals for CUNY headquarters and even a supermarket at this site.
What do you propose for this location? Here's my proposal: Let Ratner build his arena in East New York. (where there are plenty of open rail yards and undoubtedly a more appreciative population). Turn Atlantic Yards into a super transportation hub by extending PATH and the Airtrain to it and building another Greyhoud bus terminal there.
As to vitality at a core intersection, put a branch of the Smithsonian nearby. Steal a museum from Manhattan and install it. Build the aborted BPL arts library.
Sept. 22, 2009, 12:11 pm
Charles Boxenbaum from Park Slope says:
Although I suspect some tongue in cheek, I thing your on the right path. The fact is that that stretch used to be vital and viable when I was young and could be again with any real commitment to street life. (Note from that I exclude the current store at that intersection which give nothing back to the street except a doorway. Without being facetious, my point is that a stadium does not give anything to street life, and street life is the life blood of cities. From what I believe is a reasonably educated view of the history of architecture, I am maintaining that this particular intersection is not the place to put a stadium. No more no less.

Having said this, in response to your proposal of East New York - I would counter with Coney Island. There is existing transportation: subways, highways, and easy access for the entire region if this city could ever figure out that good and efficient ferry service would be a boon to our economy, environment, and region. There are also other existing and planned uses which dovetail with an arena, as well as a lot of open and semi-developed/delapidated acreage.
Sept. 22, 2009, 3:14 pm
Patrick Lubin from Crown Heights says:
Here in Charlotte, the arena was built one block away from the literal city center, in the heart of Uptown (downtown). Though I'm not sure CLT would meet the criteria for a "great city".
April 19, 2011, 1:43 am

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