Skip to main content

In Architectural Record (February 2007), editor called for "employing other voices"; now what?

This is well over two years late, but I don't think anyone noticed a thoughtful but flawed February 2007 column by Architectural Record editor Robert Ivy, headlined City of Trees and published shortly after the Atlantic Yards project was officially approved but, obviously, well before significant changes were made.

It's worth another look and Atlantic Yards, I think, deserves Ivy's attention again.

Ivy points to the need for development at the crucial intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, cited the need for housing in the city, and pointed out the importance of professional sports in what could be the fourth-largest city in the country. (I don't buy his restatement of the cliche that Brooklyn is "still grieving the loss of the Dodgers in 1957," however.)

Issues of concern

However, he acknowledges concern:
Soon residents of surrounding property and their sympathizers began to protest the disruption to the urban fabric that the 22-acre master plan proposed. They decried the loss of low-scale housing in the Prospect Heights neighborhood (a gentrifying area), the use of eminent domain by a civic authority to block viable streets, and the variation in scale presented in the proposed project.


It's even more than urban design, scale, and even eminent domain, given factors like superblocks and indefinite interim surface parking. The big issue is process--why else would the Municipal Art Society's Kent Barwick have mused that AY might be "this generation's Penn Station"?

Gehry's role

Ivy writes:
The developer’s bona fide desire to bring prestige and credibility to his project resulted in hiring the world’s most prominent architect. Who could argue with his choice for qualified design? Ratner, who burnished his reputation by hiring Renzo Piano together with FXFowle for the New York Times headquarters, employed Frank Gehry, whose name carries instant recognition with educated audiences. The professional team included Laurie Olin, renowned landscape architect responsible for the ground plane in such New York icons as Bryant Park and Battery Park City.

Actually, you could argue with Gehry's public performance, couldn't you? And now Gehry's gone.

Scale and vision

Ivy goes on to offer some measured criticism:
Leaving aside the formidable issues raised by the locals, the questions facing the Atlantic Yards development become classic architectural ones: scale and vision. Gehry’s plan for Atlantic Yards, while admirably blending mixed-use principles and awareness of varying scales, nevertheless imposes a single consciousness on the urban fabric, and the viewpoint is his own.

Ivy questions whether one architect should be in charge of AY, pointing out it's as large as Rockefeller Center and Stuyvesant Town, thus becoming "a kind of experiment that others will have to live in."

He advises "including other respected architects to design individual components of the site," a pattern that Gehry and Olin both endorsed, but the developer--so far--has publicly eschewed, despite emerging evidence that others will design less-expensive buildings.

Gehry said that he would typically bring in other architects to help, but the client wouldn't let him. Now, however, value engineering and other architects have been imposed on the arena design, and multiple architects are likely for the rest of the project.

But Gehry, we must remember, was deployed in part to win over certain elements of the chattering class.

A realistic compromise?

Ivy concludes:
New York needs density, and more housing, but not at the expense of alienating urban advocates who decry closed streets, inadequate affordable-housing options, or imperiled existing residences. Their voices must be taken into consideration. Ultimately, Atlantic Yards will comprise its own city within the city. As Gehry himself has proposed, his large commission can be improved by employing other voices to build on the plans he has laid out to date, adding other sensibilities to the architect’s own, layering the new community now in formation with multiple points of view, and enriching the borough and the whole city as a result.
(Emphasis added)

This is essentially a "mend it, don't end it" solution, reasonably close to the issues raised by BrooklynSpeaks.

Squaring the circle?

But it doesn't square the circle: if existing residences are to be saved and streets not to be closed, Forest City Ratner's master plan must be significantly altered--and probably couldn't work. It implies a lower density; if so, the developer couldn't fulfill the affordable housing pledge it made.

Moreover, it doesn't deal with the dubious claims of blight. Nor does it deal with the developer's pattern of misleading the public.

It's understandable that Ivy, like other architecture critics, would focus on issues of urban design. But a project this big raises other questions, as well.

Now that it's been two years and counting, he should revisit the issue.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

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…

So, Forest City has some property subject to the future Gowanus rezoning

Writing yesterday, MAP: Who Owns All the Property Along the Gowanus Canal, DNAinfo's Leslie Albrecht lays out the positioning of various real estate players along the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site:
As the city considers whether to rezone Gowanus and, perhaps, morph the gritty low-rise industrial area into a hot new neighborhood of residential towers (albeit at a fraction of the height of Manhattan's supertall buildings), DNAinfo reviewed property records along the canal to find out who stands to benefit most from the changes.
Investors have poured at least $440 million into buying land on the polluted waterway and more than a third of the properties have changed hands in the past decade, according to an examination of records for the nearly 130 properties along the 1.8-mile canal. While the single largest landowner is developer Property Markets Group, other landowners include Kushner Companies, Alloy Development, Two Trees, and Forest City New York.

Forest City's plans unc…

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…