Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Vanity Fair critic Goldberger: not the "extraordinary place the Gehry arena would have been, but it’s a decent and at times strong building"

Paul Goldberger writes in Vanity Fair, Jay-Z and the Brooklyn Nets Are Exciting and All, But Is the New Barclays Center Any Good as a Building? His answer: mostly yes, though I wonder if he'd have another caveat (and, perhaps, reason for enthusiasm) had he visited during an event.

He writes:
What makes Barclays distinctive isn’t the [weathered] steel itself, then. It’s what the architect, Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP, has done with it. This arena is the un–Madison Square Garden. Where the Garden is a drum, a huge, deadening cylinder, this building is full of swoops and curves, and Pasquarelli has tried to integrate it into the surrounding streetscape... I’m more struck by the way in which this building has a clear front at the point of the triangle, facing a new public plaza at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues that is punctuated by an elaborate new entrance to the subway... The best view of the building is when you come out of the new subway stairs onto the plaza and a huge, curving steel canopy, 85-feet deep and more than 200-feet long, whooshes out over you.
...It isn’t the extraordinary place the Gehry arena would have been, but it’s a decent and at times strong building, and not only by comparison with Madison Square Garden. It falls short in a couple of key ways, however, especially on the Flatbush Avenue side, which is marred by an unusual amount of cheap-looking reflective glass....
Corporate branding

Goldberger astutely notices the corporate branding:
If the storefronts are too discreet, some of the other commercial elements, like the huge, illuminated blue lettering reading BARCLAYS CENTER on the front and sides of the building, are the opposite. The Barclays sign in front is enormous, glaring, and garish. It’s also completely unnecessary and compromises the very structure... But there are more naming opportunities here than in a suburban synagogue...
It's completely unnecessary from a design point of view, maybe, but not from a business p.o.v. The arena is ultimately about business.

The context

Goldberger closes:
You can’t discuss this building without talking about its context, and you can’t talk about its context without talking about Atlantic Yards, Bruce Ratner’s mega-project of which the arena is but the first section. This is a building designed in anticipation of the context that will surround it, not the one that’s there now, which is another way of saying it is intended as the centerpiece of a slew of apartment towers, and is obviously indifferent to the brownstone texture of Brooklyn streets and neighborhoods.
Atlantic Yards is a long and difficult story, and I will not argue whether or not the city will be better off for it. But construction on the first tower is soon to begin, and then there will be more. The first towers will be the closest to the arena, and it’s hard to know at this point how they will change the arena. Barclays Center surrounded by towers won’t loom up as a large, strange shape, as it does now. Yet it’s hard to believe that its architecture will be improved by being tightly framed by high-rise buildings. What is certain is that the arena we see now, sitting by itself at one of Brooklyn’s most famous intersections, is not what we will see for very long.
I will not argue whether or not the city will be better off for it. 

C'mon, if Goldberger has the sense to recognize that the project is "indifferent" to the local texture, he could work toward a larger verdict... at the very least--and, yes, I know that this strays from most architecture critics' sense of their charge--it has done damage to civic discourse.

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