Monday, May 12, 2008

What would an interim arena without titanium look like?

The newly titanium-clad (apparently) Atlantic Yards arena gained critical notice on Friday from New York Sun architecture critic James Gardner, who likened it to other work from Frank Gehry, without pointing out that its first iteration would inevitably look very different:
As for the Barclays Center, it would appear from the renderings to fall somewhere between the performance center in Chicago’s new Millennium Park and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. The Brooklyn arena promises to be clad in the gleaming titanium that Mr. Gehry has so famously deployed at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.... It is less striking and original in design, and therefore less satisfying, than the renderings of B1. The aesthetic of exploding chaos, which is so closely associated with Mr. Gehry’s worldview, surely has its adherents. In practice, however, it tends to fall perilously short of what it promises on paper...

But the real question is: if the arena is the developer's main goal, with only one tower planned to open at the same time (though that depends on financing for affordable housing), could the arena look anything like the rendering?

No.

An arena clad in concrete?

That's why the renderings (right) by the Municipal Art Society (MAS), published in the New York Post and on the Atlantic Lots site, offer some important clues: the arena would just as likely be clad in concrete until it's finished. How could the titanium "sails" be put on only part of the building? And where would the Urban Room be?

We can't be sure. But we can be sure that the new renderings, as New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff recently wrote in another context, produce a "distorted picture of reality."

That's why it's important for Forest City Ratner to produce more accurate renderings, including descriptions of the publicly accessible open space that (its spokesman told the Post) would occupy what the MAS portrays as vacant lots.

What about Design Guidelines?

There's a significant difference between the new arena design (top) and the previous design, with a continuous glass facade (right). I speculated that the change might be attributable to security concerns, given the arena's distance from the street.

Given the extensive Design Guidelines adopted by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) in approving the plan, a reader wondered whether the new arena design would conform to such guidelines, as the General Project Plan (p. 7) seems to require: The buildings and open space will be designed in accordance with the Design Guidelines.

The Design Guidelines (p. 24) require a strip of glass at least 125 feet wide: The street walls of the Arena along Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue shall include glass elements, including a continuous glazed area with a minimum width of 125 feet and a minimum surface area of 7500 square feet, such glazed area to commence at the height of the Arena concourse level.

I asked ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston if the arena, with a truncated amount of glass, would conform to the Design Guidelines. He said it did.

Because my initial email did not cite the precise dimensions of 125 feet and 7500 square feet, I asked for confirmation. I didn't get a response.

What vision to trust?

If a typical car length is 14 feet, then 125 feet would be about nine car lengths. Does the strip of glass in the rendering at the top encompass nine car lengths? I can't tell.

It is interesting, however, that the Design Guidelines do permit something very much like the current design, rather than impose the transparency that might have previously been assumed.

And it is notable that the current renderings don't tell us whether the arena would meet the current guidelines, nor when exactly in the development process the current renderings might be realized. So we could have some vacant lots instead.

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