Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Viewing the AY site from above--and a Marty encounter

For some, the Fort Greene Association's house tour, held every two years, is an opportunity to peer inside someone's innovatively restored home and wonder just how they got the money or the creativity to accomplish that. The tour held Sunday, titled Transition Fort Greene, offered two bonuses: an opportunity to gaze over the surrounding neighborhoods from an observation deck at the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, as well as an interesting exhibit on the traditional and modernist architecture of the neighborhood.

The bank is being turned into high-end condos, starting at more than $350K for a studio. They'll go up for sale in mid-June, with occupancy slated for the summer or fall of 2007. Note that the poster for the building (right) shows it alone in the skyline, without the nearby Bank of New York tower at the Atlantic Terminal Mall, with little of the Downtown Brooklyn skyline in the background, and (obviously) without any renderings of the nearby unbuilt Atlantic Yards plan.

From the 19th floor, which is actually more than 300 feet high (the floors don't start until after a 60-foot banking hall, which is slated to become a Borders bookstore), numerous photographers took advantage of the views. The photo at right shows Site 5, current home of P.C. Richard/Modell's and slated for a 350-foot tower--stretching higher than the observation deck where the photo was taken. Its neighbors behind it are two to six stories in height. The building was supposed to be even bigger, though the size is achievable only by trading development rights from the Atlantic Center mall

Architectural exhbit

At the Irondale Center for Theater, Education, and Outreach, inside Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, an exhibit titled Fort Greene Modern included designs by world-famous architects like Enrique Norten, Hugh Hardy, and Arquitectonica. Buildings included The Brooklyn Public Library's Visual and Performing Arts Library (slated to be built next to the bank), Theatre for a New Audience (behind the library), and the Wellness Center at Long Island University (off DeKalb Avenue). Both the library and theater are pictured above.

“The exhibition will pose the question: How do contemporary architects work within an historic and contextual framework as they create new works in Fort Greene?” according to curator Annie Coggan. One way is to build a house around a 60-foot maple tree, or to repurpose an office building like 80 Hanson Place into a center for arts groups and arts service groups, like MoCADA, opening later this month.

Observed curator Coggan in a caption, "The Ten Arquitectos Visual and Performing Arts Library will be the most enjoyed urban space since the Metropolitan Museum steps, as well as being an homage to the Olmstead stair in Fort Greene Park."

The exhibit suggests that modernism and traditionalism can coexist in Fort Greene. There was no mention of Frank Gehry's Atlantic Yards project planned for the adjacent neighborhood of Prospect Heights, in the photo at right. Can that version of modernism can fit into brownstone neighborhoods or not? Or would the project's 16 towers, extending east (left) for three blocks (and over the railyards and then one block deep) be too big? Consider: the flagship Ms. Brooklyn would rise some 300 feet above the point where the photo was taken.

Marty, and affordable housing

The issue of scale came up when I got a chance to chat with Borough President Marty Markowitz, who was gladhanding tourgoers as they picked up their tickets. I asked about the controversial Forest City Ratner brochure that his spokesman seemed not-so-eager to endorse. "I'm totally for the project," Markowitz said several times, as if that sufficed.

When I asked him why he declared that the brochure was "another step in familiarizing Brooklynites with the details of the project," he said that only people concerned with policy like me would be upset with the omissions. (Well, the omissions were huge: not just the towers but the failure to acknowledge that the project has just begun the environmental review process.)

I asked him again if the project should shrink and his riposte was, "It has to be that big, for the affordable housing." (Would he have said that before FCR cut 440 of 7300 units? Obviously, it's all negotiable.) Yes, it's important to have a significant amount of affordable housing at the railyard site, and in new developments that receive tax breaks. But should Forest City Ratner be allowed to build out of scale because the borough and city haven't come up with appropriate policies for affordable housing--including new luxury residential towers Markowitz has endorsed?

Significant density and affordable housing is appropriate for the railyard site, especially since affordable housing was absent in plans for the Williamsburgh Bank condo conversion and the architectural models on display at the Irondale Center. But should Markowitz cede public debate about the appropriate scale to a developer?

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