Sunday, January 30, 2011

When was Ellerbe Becket on board? Article suggests arena architect switch began in November 2008, well before June 2009 announcement

When exactly did architect Frank Gehry get bounced from the Atlantic Yards arena and project?

The replacement firm, the veteran arena designers Ellerbe Becket (later to be assisted by facade architect SHoP), didn't emerge until 5/27/09, while the official statement that Gehry was gone came on 6/4/09.

However, a trade publication article that I (and others) missed suggested in September 2009 that the relationship had been severed as of November 2008, a time when Ellerbe Becket, according to another report, was said to simply have begun advising Forest City Ratner.

(Note: The Wall Street Journal in May 2010 reported that Gehry had been gone by November 2008.)

Official denials

Forest City Ratner had maintained that Gehry was still onboard.

"Frank Gehry is still the architect of this project," claimed New Jersey Nets CEO Brett Yormark, during a 3/29/09 radio interview. "And he loves it."

Yormark was doing damage control after Gehry, in an interview that month with The Architect's Newspaper, had suggested Atlantic Yards, "I don’t think it’s going to happen."

Shortly after Gehry's interview, the New York Post quoted a Ratner spokesman as claiming Gehry was still the project's "lead architect." That may have been a fudge to allow for the notion that the work of the "lead architect" was being modified.

Two months later, on 5/27/09, the Daily News reported:
Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco said a reevaluation of Gehry's design would be completed by July, at which point Ratner will determine whether the world-famous architect would remain on the project...
When was firm on board?

That 5/27/09 Daily News article led with the new firm:
Ellerbe Becket, a Missouri-based firm, was tapped last fall to reevaluate the extravagant arena design Gehry conceived for developer Forest City Ratner to lure the NBA's New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn.
Yes, Ellerbe Becket was working in the fall of 2008, but it was described as simply reevaluating the design.

Could that be so? After all, the entire plan for the arena block--four tours built roughly at the same time as the arena--had been dumped.

Instead, a completely different design emerged, emphasizing a standalone arena, which did not share mechanical systems with the other buildings.

New evidence

Here's the new evidence. In a 9/30/09 article headlined Barclays Center: Firms Large and Small(er) Come Together Around Performative Design, AIArchitect reported:
Last November Ellerbe Becket (whose sports design practice is in Kansas City, Mo.) began working with Forest City Ratner on a less expensive design. In June, SHoP began working with Ellerbe Becket on the project, and the two firms released a final design in September, which Forest City Ratner is raising $700 million to build.
(Emphasis added)

The phrase "working... on a less expensive design" is not the same as (in the Daily News's words) "reevaluate the extravagant arena design Gehry conceived."

Ellerbe Becket and SHoP

The AIArchitect article ignores the sequence by which SHoP was hired. After generic Ellerbe Becket designs emerged (allegedly leaked by City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden), New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff in June 2009 called it a "shameful betrayal of the public trust."

After SHoP added a new metal facade and an oculus, Ouroussoff on 9/9/09 gave the new design two cheers, certainly enough to tilt the discussion among some readers.

Happy collaboration?

The AIArchitect article quotes principals of both firms, Bill Crockett and Gregg Pasquarelli:
The two firms’ collaboration began with Ellerbe Becket setting out program and site parameters for the project. “Once we had the program, the site, and some of the bigger picture fundamentals , we were ready for SHoP to join the party and start really fleshing out the big themes and the big ideas for integrating all those objectives in the building design,” says Bill Crockett, AIA, principal and national director of sports at Ellerbe Becket.

“The fascinating thing was to really learn all the parameters necessary to make a successful arena,” says Pasquarelli. “For us, it was taking those parameters and working with them collaboratively to push the overall form and aesthetics and methodology of the developing design.”

The Barclays Center design is more adventurous and unconventional than much of Ellerbe Becket’s sports portfolio, but MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president of commercial and residential development at Forest City Ratner, says that in hiring SHoP, Forest City Ratner wasn’t attempting to buy into any particular level of design credibility or highbrow aesthetic sensibility. “It has a value-add,” she says. “It allowed us to take advantage of all that SHoP could offer at the right point in time. We understand that good design pays. I don’t think we have to hire an architect to prove that,” says Gilmartin, whose firm has already hired AIA Gold Medal Winner Renzo Piano for his New York Times headquarters skyscraper and still retains Gehry for the residential Beekman Tower in New York City.
This is just a tad bit of historical revisionism. The collaboration began after Ellerbe Becket produced a design.

As for Gilmartin's statement that "good design pays," it should be tempered by the recognition that good design pays only when, as she might say, "the numbers pencil out."
Forest City Ratner Statement Dropping Frank Gehry from Atlantic Yards, 6/4/09

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