I would love to hate the new Barclays Center, the billion-dollar sports and entertainment complex that opened in September at the devilishly chaotic intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues in Brooklyn. After all, it is the first completed component of the almost-$5 billion boondoggle known as Atlantic Yards... tax-free bonds, a sweetheart deal on the acquisition of air rights... a highly questionable use of eminent domain... Barclays bank (lately infamous for manipulating LIBOR rates)...Read on.
There’s a lot to hate. But, surprisingly, I like the arena. It’s the rare example in New York City of a youngish architecture firm, SHoP, getting to design something consequential that is genuinely expressive and unconventional. If you can ignore the Barclays branding—the logo is a misbegotten update of a medieval coat of arms—the arena, clad in a basket weave of pre-rusted steel, is a decent piece of architecture. It is pointedly un-shiny. The color of the weathered steel can be read as a nod to the surrounding brownstone neighborhoods without being in any way historicist. Big windows will let passersby see what’s going on inside and the overall shape of the building is soft, rounded but not rigid; it’s not a Madison Square Garden–style hatbox. There’s a generous plaza out front, which, if properly furnished and activated, could turn a deeply unpleasant stretch of Flatbush Avenue into a tolerable place. The front of the arena is designated by a big canopy with an elongated hole in it that SHoP partner Gregg Pasquarelli refers to as an “oculus.” On the inside rim of this hoop, moving digital messages swoop around.
Now I wouldn’t go so far as developer Bruce Ratner, who, acting as emcee of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, anointed Barclays “the most architecturally beautiful arena in this country.” In fact, the event, a pageant of self-congratulatory bonhomie, made me want to rethink my assessment of the architecture.
I'm glad Karrie Jacobs didn’t look at the building in a vacuum, and experienced appropriate skepticism at the ribbon-cutting.
After all, Delia Hunley-Adossa represents a Potemkin organization, Brooklyn Endeavor Experience, that has done nothing regarding its stated responsibility under the Community Benefits Agreement.
It’s worth noting that the arena plaza shouldn’t even be there: it’s a temporary (but perhaps for a very long time) replacement for the Urban Room, an atrium connected to the flagship office building, which has long been on hold. Revenues from that office building were crucial to the rosy cost-benefit analyses regarding the project.
However much people like the arena, it results from what I call (and Ms. Jacobs certainly touches on) the Culture of Cheating.