Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Landscape architect Olin: project would take 20 years, Gehry would get help

No wonder why developer Forest City Ratner doesn't let architect Frank Gehry and nor (apparently) let landscape architect Laurie Olin meet with members of the public concerned about Atlantic Yards. The artists are just too candid.

Gehry admitted, in January 2006, that "we're out of whack" with the scale of the project. (He was back on message by May, decrying protesters as people who "should've been picketing Henry Ford.")

Olin vs. Ratner

Now, in a New York Observer story this week by Matthew Schuerman, Olin projects that the development would take twice as long as projected and that Gehry, would not design the whole thing. The article, headlined This Guy Wants You to Love Atlantic Yards, states:
“It’s a great project, if it all happens,” he said. “The time calendar we are talking about is probably 20 years. People say 10 to 15, but take a look. How long does it take the market to absorb that much stuff?”

He also doubted that all 16 buildings, which include a basketball arena and a 511-foot tower called Miss Brooklyn (sometimes called “Ms. Brooklyn”), would be designed by Frank Gehry—which was one of the selling points to get the project through the state approval process last year. Forest City began preliminary site work this week, but three lawsuits have been filed against the project.

“Various architects who have specialized in doing residential towers will probably be brought in to be the architect of record anyway, even if design architects like Frank Gehry or other personalities give image and shape to them,” Mr. Olin told The Observer.

Both statements diverge from the official line taken by Mr. Ratner’s firm.

“Laurie has his views,” countered Jim Stuckey, executive vice president of Forest City Ratner. “We don’t believe it is going to take 20 years. We expect that it will take 10.”

He added, “Frank Gehry will be the architect on every one of them.”


It should be noted that project supporter Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, in December also predicted that the project could take 20 years.

Also, Gehry is 77 and recently told the Wall Street Journal that, on taking a commission, "The determining factor is: Can I get it done while I am still alive?"

Doubts and contradictions

Olin appears sanguine about the project, even though the ratio of people to open space, and people per acre, suggests far greater density than at other projects. (Battery Park City would be nearly four times less dense and have six times as much open space.)

The Observer reports:
“It’s the future: how to live wisely and well in close quarters with good spaces and environmental conditions and with the highest qualities. What a project!” Mr. Olin exclaimed. “Holy smokes! That many thousands of people in such a tight space, and to try to give them something wonderful that they’ll love. That’s fun. It’s hard, too.”


Olin has tried to find solutions, noting that the passageways--part of the much-decried superblock--are wider than city streets and that buildings have been shaped to maximize the amount of sun.

Still, shadows remain a significant challenge. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement acknowledged significant shadows but said, essentially, that the provision of new open space was better than nothing:
The proposed project’s publicly accessible open space would receive shadow from Buildings 3 through 15 throughout the day in each analysis period. The incremental shadow would be greatest in the early mornings, when the shadows would stretch east and late afternoons, when the shadows would stretch west along the open space. During those times, most of the open space would be in shadow. Shadow is not generally expected to adversely affect active recreational uses such as volleyball, bocce, and the half basketball courts. The shadow would diminish the attractiveness of the passive recreation areas to their potential users. Were it not for the development of these buildings, this publicly accessible space would not be created. Therefore, the shadows on this public space would not be considered significant adverse impacts.
(Emphasis added)

That passage is repeated in Chapter 9 of the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Questions of timing

While the first phase of construction would include the arena and five towers, Olin acknowledges that even the towers are speculative. The Observer reports:
As for the rest of the project, that can wait. Even the three towers that directly ring the arena are not on Mr. Olin’s immediate radar. The developers, he said, would “love to see one of these going, but I haven’t heard them saying that there is this market crying out for condos at Atlantic and Flatbush.”

If so, that further jeopardizes the second phase, the 11 towers east of Sixth Avenue, which would contain the coveted open space and more than three-quarters of the planned affordable housing.

Olin's a bit off-message here; in an infomercial-like video shot last May for the New York Times, speaking with an unseen interlocutor who surely was not as briefed on the project as the Observer's Schuerman, Olin declared, "And if you believe in change there are people who are frightened of it or resistant. So there’s always going to be some opposition to our work. And the more ambitious the scale, the more daring the project, the more upset some people will always be."

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