‘Childs’ play: Bruce may be bringing in top architects to work on Yards

Yards foes win a big case that will not likely change a thing
SHoP Architects

Developer Bruce Ratner appears to be bringing in an all-star team to Atlantic Yards — and we’re not talking about his pathetic Brooklyn-bound New Jersey Nets.

Legendary architect David Childs — the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill emeritus who was the lead designer of the so-called Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site — told The Brooklyn Paper that he met with Ratner earlier in the year to give the developer’s arena plans a “once over.”

And beyond that, Ratner and Childs discussed having the esteemed designer work on one of the 16 proposed residential buildings that form the bulk of the mega-project.

“First, he brought me in to look at the arena design, which I think is very good now,” Childs said, referring to the current design collaboration between Ellerbe Becket and SHoP Architects.

“And then we talked about working together on the residential buildings,” added Childs, who was celebrating the opening of his firm’s signature Brooklyn building, the 38-story Toren tower on Flatbush Avenue.

Legendary architect David Childs is apparently working with Bruce Ratner to improve the architecture at Atlantic Yards.
Greg Betz

“Bruce wants to bring in different architects, good architects, to do each of the residential buildings,” Childs said. “That’s something I’d be very excited about. Talking to Bruce, it’s clear that he wants to do this right. He really does.”

Childs added that he was comforted by his chat with Ratner, given that the developer has a torturous history with architects. Before hiring Frank Gehry to design the Atlantic Yards mini-city, Ratner’s work in Brooklyn — such as the Atlantic Terminal and Atlantic Center malls — was pedestrian at best.

Gehry promised to change all that, but last year, he was fired by Ratner in a cost-saving move.

The redesign of the future home of the Brooklyn Nets, done solely by the Kansas City-based Ellerbe Becket, was reviled so loudly that Ratner brought in the Manhattan-based SHoP firm to repair the damage.

The resulting arena is sometimes mocked as a “George Foreman grill,” but it also has many supporters.

David Childs worked on the so-called Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP / dbox Studio

“It’s a good-looking design,” said Childs, who specifically cited the building’s “industrial” outer membrane.

Forest City Ratner Executive Vice President MaryAnne Gilmartin said that the developer and Childs talked about working together in some capacity at Atlantic Yards, but said it was “premature” to speculate on the identities of other Hall of Fame-quality draftsmen who might also be brought in to work on the first residential buildings.

“This is about finding the right architects for the challenge,” she said. “There are many architects who could create a beautiful design, but this isn’t only about design. One has to add in the challenge of building a high-rise structure with union labor and an affordable housing component. Atlantic Yards is about cracking the code on this kind of challenge.”

Gilmartin said she was gratified by Childs’s kind words, considering that he is chairman of the Municipal Art Society, a design watchdog group that has a faction that is opposed to Atlantic Yards.

“David Childs is a man of stature who, speaking as an architect and a citizen, sees something positive and hopeful about the project,” Gilmartin added.

Toren, Toren, Toren: Downtown’s skyscraper, the Toren, a 240-unit, 38-story tower at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Flatbush Avenue Extension, is now fully clad in silver metal and black glass.
Michael Weinstein

One architect who is sometimes mentioned as the kind of designer that Ratner might consider is Roger Duffy, the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill designer whose credits include the Toren, which is receiving substantial praise for its modern, clean lines.