Skip to main content

Gehry on the "uplifting effect" of "real architecture"

For the Atlantic Monthly's 150th anniversary issue in November, the editors "invited an eclectic group of thinkers who have had cause to consider the American idea to describe its future and the greatest challenges to it"--in 300 words or so.

One of those thinkers is Atlantic Yards architect Frank Gehry. (He's also #49, up from #77 last year, in Vanity Fair's New Establishment list.)

Building Dreams

In an Atlantic Monthly essay headlined Building Dreams (subscriber-only), Gehry writes as if defending his Grand Avenue plan in Los Angeles rather than his foray into an older city like Brooklyn:

The postwar American city grew up as a development free-for-all. Suburbia became possible because of the automobile, and cities like Los Angeles just sprawled. The older American cities had concentrations of infrastructure that allowed for a New York–style density—an essential hub of urbanity that’s been missing from many of our newer cities but that now seems to be the model for the future of all American cities, including Los Angeles. The missing element, in this development free-for-all, has been architecture.

Most of the buildings built would not qualify to be identified as architecture—and yet the world values architecture. People take their vacations to visit architecture of the past. The few great architectural wonders that have been built command tons of attention and generate plenty of revenue for the communities in which they reside. So the question is: Why isn’t there a movement that requires real architecture as a priority?


Uplifting effect

Gehry continues:
Real architecture tends to have an uplifting effect on the people that experience it, and it creates identifiable icons—like the Sydney Opera House—that brand a city, even a country. Since I’m an architect, the question is perhaps self-serving; but at my age, I don’t have too much longer to benefit from the fruits of it. As I think of what’s gone on in the years I’ve been on this planet, I wonder why great architecture isn’t considered an important shaper of the American idea.

Questions raised

Gehry's essay raises a worthy issue, though arguably architecture has become part of the American idea; witness buildings like Rem Koolhaas's Central Library in Seattle. (Gehry practiced some strategic modesty in citing the Sydney Opera House; he easily could have mentioned his Disney Hall in Los Angeles.)

His question, "Why isn’t there a movement that requires real architecture as a priority?" raises further questions--among others--about the difference between government patronage in the United States and Europe/Asia, the role of top architects serving the private rather than public realm, and the still-awkward relationship between architecture and urban planning.

But, given that he has described the Miss Brooklyn tower he designed for the Atlantic Yards project as "my ego trip," and he was eager to design his first sports arena and a "neighborhood practically from scratch," Atlantic Yards may indeed serve as one of the last fruits of his "perhaps self-serving" observation.

Whether the "elegant" (according to the Brooklyn Tomorrow advertorial) Miss Brooklyn would have an uplifting effect remains in question.

The "drunken robots" party

And the "uplifting effect" of the Stata Center of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now subject of a lawsuit against Gehry charging that the design led to pervasive problems, is also in question. Gehry told the New York Times that the problems were minor, that any complicated building has minor flaws, and that the client's decision to cut costs fostered the problems.

The Times approached the lawsuit skeptically, concluding--based on, apparently, a reporter's cursory look--that "no leaking, mold or signs of structural deficiency were evident" and quoting a robotics professor who said, “It is a joy to work in this building."

In a New York Post column yesterday headlined Frank Lloyd Wrong: Cracks Finally Appear in the Fad of Gehry, Kyle Smith found a litany of complaints about the building, cited the surprising string of structural problems in Gehry buildings, and wondered, When he builds the Ground Zero arts center and the new home of the Brooklyn Nets, will he embarrass us the way he has so many others?

Fun quote: Gehry has said that the building "looks like a party of drunken robots got together to celebrate."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…