Sunday, July 08, 2007

Following the Times's architecture critics down the path of concern

The first three passages regard Atlantic Yards, the fourth Governors Island. No, the two projects aren't exactly comparable, but the observations are nonetheless interesting. Emphases added.

Herbert Muschamp, Courtside Seats to an Urban Garden, 12/11/05:
A Garden of Eden grows in Brooklyn. This one will have its own basketball team. Also, an arena surrounded by office towers; apartment buildings and shops; excellent public transportation; and, above all, a terrific skyline, with six acres of new parkland at its feet. Almost everything the well-equipped urban paradise must have, in fact.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, Seeking First to Reinvent the Sports Arena, and Then Brooklyn, 7/5/05:
Even in this early stage of development, the design proves that Mr. Gehry can handle the challenge better than most. His approach is a blow against the formulaic ways of thinking that are evidence of the city's sagging level of cultural ambition. It suggests another development model: locate real talent, encourage it to break the rules, get out of the way.

Nicolai Ouroussoff, Skyline for Sale, 6/4/06:
Beyond that, their collaboration points up a major change in the way cities are being built. There was a time when government took an interest in big urban planning projects. Mr. Ratner and Mr. Gehry are operating under a model by which the government plays only a marginal role. Bigger social concerns, like housing for mixed incomes, equal access to parks and transit, and vibrant communal spaces, which were once the public’s purview, now increasingly fall to developers to address or not, as they see fit.

...Such decisions could well determine whether Atlantic Yards will feel like a privileged enclave or belong to the community as a whole. One imagines what might have been possible if the city had the resources or the will to support such a vision.

...The problem is not that Mr. Gehry's layout won't work, and it is a notch above the conventional. But given the clout he has, he had the opportunity to propose a far bolder design. I still hope he will revise the master plan, which is, after all, in the earliest stages.

For Brooklyn residents who oppose Atlantic Yards, the Gehry-Ratner partnership is a natural target. But much of their anger should focus on the city and federal governments, which are apparently delighted to give developers responsibility for building and maintaining parks and pedestrian thoroughfares. That decision has changed the character of our cities as much as any single event in the past half century. Once commercial forces rule, such spaces are no longer really public.


Nicolai Ouroussoff, Competing Visions for Governors Island, 6/20/07:
Five proposals for the 40-acre park area at the southern half of the island offer the clearest evidence so far of what the island’s future could hold. The designs, commissioned by the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, should be regarded as preliminary sketches. After the winning design is selected next month, it will no doubt face significant revisions. Even so, the five proposals hold clues to what’s right and wrong about how public space is designed.

All five concepts are thoughtful approaches to a complex design problem. And the emphasis on public space is reassuring; responses to the agency’s earlier requests for proposals typically included more commercial development. But the five plans still fall short of the sweeping ambition such a unique parcel of undeveloped public land in New York City should inspire. We are mostly left with good intentions.

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