Designed by SHoP Architects, the Barclays Center is winning over Brooklyn, N.Y. After almost 10 years of contentious wrangling between the community and developer Forest City Ratner, the first completed building in the Atlantic Yards megadevelopment opened in September. The 675,000-square-foot sports arena sits at the edge of a residential neighborhood. And it is as hulking and out of scale as feared, but locals have found it interesting enough architecturally to reconsider its potential. The architects animated a very basic arena form, covering it with rusted steel panels—thousands of them, each one slightly different in size—turning something ponderous, dynamic. In a bold gesture at street level, a swooping oculus projects out over the subway and commuter train stairs. Its inner rim is lined with LED announcements, a bit of flash focused on those who will want it rather than blasting the neighborhood streets. The excitement over Barclays is mostly about sports teams coming home to Brooklyn, but credit is also due to the building's design. Architecture really only succeeds when it's about places that work for the people closest to it.
Well, there's close, and there's closest. The arena doesn't work so well for some closest to it--they see trucks waiting for the loading dock, limos idling, and even blinking late night ads from that oculus. Yes, the arena has been received with far more approval than some thought--thanks to that animated arena form.
But that "bold gesture at street level" was never meant to be. The arena plaza, and oculus, are the product of failing to build the massive office tower designed for that space. The arena surely looks less imposing, and more neighborhood-friendly, that way. But the office tower was key to the financial projections that made Atlantic Yards plausible.
For the record, the oculus does not really lead to "commuter train stairs." Arena visitors are instructed to walk down Atlantic Avenue to get to the Long Island Rail Road--otherwise, they must pay a subway fare to walk underground.