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In brief mention of AY, Gehry says his pessimism was "misread," suggests project is "ready to go"

So, did Atlantic Yards architect (at least of record) Frank Gehry say anything about AY during his appearance last night at the New York Public Library?

Yes, but it was essentially a repeat of his statements in March when he backed off his prediction, in the Architect's Newspaper that "I don't think it's going to happen."

The AY moment lasted little more than a minute in a low-key, drifting 90-minute panel discussion with Barbara Isenberg, author of Conversations With Frank Gehry, and somewhat awkward interpolations from New Yorker music critic Alex Ross and New York Public Library public programs director Paul Holdengraber.

Most of the discussion focused on Gehry and his projects, notably those in California. 

(Originally, Isenberg was to interview Gehry, who designed Disney Hall in Los Angeles, and, in a second segment, Ross was to interview Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. However, the latter has back problems, so Holdengraber made it a foursome.)


There was no opportunity for those in the audience to verbally pose questions--a tactic that tripped up Gehry at January 2006 appearance. Library event staffers collected questions from the audience. Holdengraber announced that, though there were some 20 questions, there was only time for two or three.

"I think there are about seven questions about this, I'm boiling it down to one," said Holdengraber. "People want to know what more plans you have for New York City, particularly in the context of a March comment you made about the Atlantic Yards where you say, 'I don't think they're going to happen,' and people want to know what you mean."

( Maybe my question was included in that list, but I wanted to know what Gehry thought of New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff's request that he "walk away" from the project.)

"I was misread"

Gehry seemed prepared for the question. "That was misread. I probably said something like that, but I'm always, y'know, 'the glass is half-full.'"

I probably said something like that? I suspect the Architect's Newspaper got that interview on tape, or otherwise made sure the quote is accurate. I don't doubt Gehry's a pessimist, but "I don't think it's going to happen" is pretty declarative. (True candor might have been, "Well, I said something like that, but... my client told me I shouldn't.")

Ready to go?

"Um, it's going ahead," he continued. "There's work going on. Every developer in the world is struggling with the times we're in... So it's frustrating if you're someone like me and you're working on it five years, you've done all this work, and it's ready to go. In Brooklyn, there's a lawsuit--one lawsuit that persists, and they can't start until that's settled. "

Hold on. There's no construction work going on. There's likely work to rewrite contracts, gain indirect subsidies, and prepare for bond financing. As for work in Gehry's office, well, he laid off his staff working on Atlantic Yards.

There's more than one lawsuit pending. And developer Forest City Ratner is trying to cut the cost of the arena in half. Maybe that's the work Gehry was referring to. There's very little evidence that "it's ready to go." 

In fact, Gehry's syntax--"you've done all this work, and it's ready to go"--could plausibly reflect a situation in which economic pressures have forced the developer to call in value engineering. 

Missed opportunity

Given the plan to involve Salonen in the second half of the scheduled panel, it was no surprise that the evening centered on Gehry's work in California.

But it was a disservice to New Yorkers who paid $25 that so little time was devoted to Gehry's most controversial project, which happens to be local, especially since the meandering panel generated a steady trickle of walk-outs.

When Holdengraber introduced Isenberg, he enthusiastically called her new work "a spectacular book of interviews." Well, it's fascinating, but it's also deeply flawed when it comes to AY--as critic Martin Filler also pointed out--since Isenberg didn't acknowledge the controversy nor challenge Gehry.


  1. Gehry's "it's ready to go" comment was clearly meant in the past tense, as in: "the project WAS ready to go until financial and legal obstacles got in the way."

    Gehry's attempt to backtrack from his "i don't think it's going to happen" comment is so lame that it's comical.

    Gehry said there is still work going on ... wrong, there's no construction work going on.

    Gehry said they can't start until the lawsuit is resolved ... wrong, there is still a considerable amount of site preparation work that COULD go on despite the lawsuits, such as debris removal, installation of utilities and
    installation of piles for the railyard platform.

    Gehry said there's only one lawsuit remaining ... wrong, there are at least 2 remaining - eminent domain and environmental review - with more cases possibly on the way.

    Gehry better get his talking points straight before making any further public comments regarding the future of atlantic yards.

    On second thought, perhaps gehry, ratner and david stern are merely auditioning for a revival of the old tv series 'the three stooges'.


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