Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Yorker architecture critic Goldberger: just keep the arena; AYR: what about the parking?

In the New Yorker online, architectural critic Paul Goldberger praises SHoP's arena redesign:
The results are good enough to take the architectural argument against the project off the table... It has a lot of rust-colored metal making swoops and curves, but there is also a lot of glass, opening the arena up to the outside. This arena is going to be every bit as connected to the street life of downtown Brooklyn as Gehry’s would have been. It’s not the box everyone feared.

The box was what Nicolai Ouroussoff and people concerned only with architecture feared. There are lots of concerns about the arena itself that go beyond design. And, while the arena block would extend Downtown Brooklyn, it also fits into Prospect Heights.

Keep the arena?

Goldberger concludes:
But then again, so what? The rest of Atlantic Yards still remains—too big, and too indifferent to the fabric of residential Brooklyn, which it abuts. This is a mega-project that looks less and less convincing as the months go on. The arena was predicated on the presence of blocks and blocks and blocks of apartment towers, but the city would be better off if Ratner could simply build the arena and leave it at that.

Better off, of course, can be calculated in different ways. One commenter already pointed out that the NYC Independent Budget Office calls the arena a net loss for the city, while toting up huge subsidies for the developer.

Beyond the vacuum

And the the building can't be considered in a vacuum. For example, the arena requires some 1000 spaces of "interim" surface parking on a block in Prospect Heights bookended by the new Prospect Heights Historic District. (There would be a lot of "street life" on the residential block between the parking and the arena.)

That block, which already lost the Ward Bakery, retains several buildings, one of which is a handsome factory retooled into office space.

Beyond the potential loss to the city, keep in mind that the Empire State Development Corporation's override of zoning and use of eminent domain was predicated on several public purposes, including affordable housing and transit improvements; the former, at least, would be precluded. And the "blight" of the open rail yards would continue, with no incentive to deck them over.

So there's a conundrum. Public support for the project was based on the perceived benefits of (jobs, housing) an out-of-scale project. Remove the scale and many of the benefits are lost, as are the justifications for the public subsidies and governmental overrides.

And the current arena architects, however dedicated to building a better arena, are not empowered to grapple with the larger urban planning issues or the ethics of the project, like the use of eminent domain. In other words, it's not just a story about architecture.

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