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Scarano, starchitect of the ‘new Brooklyn,’ loses right to file plans

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn’s most-polarizing — and prolific — architect has been banned from filing construction plans for playing fast and loose with city regulations.

“Bad boy” architect Robert Scarano was barred because some of his blueprints “were so deceptive that they call to mind out-and-out fraud,” wrote Administrative Law Judge Joan Salzman.

The ruling stands as a low point for Scarano, who was once hailed as “the architect of the New Brooklyn,” the builder of hyper-modern — and certainly controversial — structures around the borough.

City officials had already stripped Scarano of the coveted right to self-certify his designs, but now say they will seek to revoke Scarano’s state license to practice architecture entirely.

“He repeatedly submitted false documents in an attempt to circumvent the law and have illegal buildings approved,” explained Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri.

Locals who had battled the architect could not hide their elation.

“Oh boy!” said Aaron Brashear, who fought against Scarano’s “Minerva Building,” which would have blocked a historic view corridor between the Minerva statue in Green-Wood Cemetery and the Statue of Liberty. “He had this coming years ago.”

Indeed, the city had placed the architect in its crosshairs for quite a while. In 2008 the city filed charges alleging that Scarano provided misleading statements to the Department of Buildings — statements that ultimately led to the judge’s ruling on March 1.

One such misleading statement involved the seemingly insignificant placement of a utility pole near a new building in East New York, a distant project for the once-high-flying starchitect.

According to the Department of Buildings, Scarano filed photographs in 2008 meant to deceive officials into thinking the pole had been moved when in reality it was in the same place.

But Scarano’s crafty methods are nothing new. In 2006, he converted rooms with high ceilings in “The Washington” in Prospect Heights into “mezzanines” by installing plywood platforms — a trick that made the building meet zoning codes.

And in 2006, Scarano had his right to self-certify revoked after he allegedly “rubber-stamped” many plans that didn’t turn out to be kosher (in a building sense, that is).

It’s very rare for architects to become household names in Brooklyn, given how common most designs are and how few bold-faced designers have set up shop in the so-called “outer borough.” But even his detractors would say that Robert Scarano was a different sort of animal.

Committed to working in his native borough, Scarano flashed onto the public consciousness just a decade ago, interestingly enough, with the design of his own headquarters on York Street in DUMBO, a building whose iconic triangular roof — a modern take on Notre Dame, if you will — is visible from the Manhattan Bridge.

Eventually, he had 300 projects in various stages of development in Brooklyn and had dozens of staff architects working for him. After the city pulled his right to self-certify, his new projects completely dried up.

Former Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D-Park Slope) was certainly happy about that. And on Thursday, he also gloated about the architect’s demise.

“I commend Commissioner LiMandri on his decision to finally expel Robert Scarano from doing business in our city,” said DeBlasio, now the city’s public advocate. “For the last two years, I worked closely with communities in calling for such a ban due to Scarano’s complete disregard for applicable city and state zoning laws.”

A spokesman for the architect, Linda Alexander, said that Scarano will be back.

“We will pursue all avenues available to reverse the erroneous rulings that were issued,” she said.

That somehow seemed a bit tame for the notoriously fiery Scarano, so we called him on his still-functioning cellphone

“I am at the Department of Buildings. Call my office!” he said.

Later, Scarano showed up at a party at 90 North Fifth St., one of the many buildings that he designed in Williamsburg, and called the decision “unjust.”

“I don’t really know what I’m going to do — fight or appeal or take early retirement,” he said. “The decision is unjust and unduly harsh because of all the people it affects. There are hundreds of jobs that need to get finished, five to six hundred jobs, people who depend on me for work: engineers, contractors, surveyors. We’re a little engine of the economy.”

He specifically took issue with the judge’s depiction of the East New York lamppost incident, calling it, “kind of petty.”

— with Aaron Short

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Reader Feedback

joey from clinton hills says:
but we're allowed to build beyond what the zoning allows because it is going to be housing for hasidic students, wink wink!
March 5, 2010, 3:15 pm
Joesph from Midwood says:
As an architect living in Brooklyn, it's discouraging to see so many buildings with uninspired design. Buildings which clearly do not meet best practice construction are commonplace in Brooklyn. An ethical architect can design a building/space creatively and bring the project to completion on time and under/on budget. Developers use this sleasy architect because he's cheap and he cuts corners so the developer's building costs are less. The developer sells off the space and the condo owner is left holding the bag and suffering from the substandard build. This guy's had a free ride while Forest City Ratner - who have retained only the best architects - are regularly shredded by this paper.
March 6, 2010, 3:28 pm

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