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Playing with perspective: how renderings suggest new 18-story tower (smallest of all) almost harmonizes with row houses

Follow arrow: from fourth floor (right) to the seventh
The history of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park includes much deception and misdirection regarding the scale of the project.

Part of that has been a policy of not showing the scale at all--remember the brochures that depicted towers as smudges from the sky?

Another element has been distortion--remember how the Williamsburgh Savings Bank (now known as One Hanson) was depicted as looming over the proposed Miss Brooklyn office tower, though the latter would be three times its bulk?

Well, the developers of Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park--now, Greenland Forest City Partners--are still at it.

Consider the very strategic release of renderings by CookFox (first, on 8/4/14, to Curbed) of B14, the 18-story, 184-foot tower also known as 535 Carlton, at the corner of Carlton Avenue and Dean Street. The construction plan should be part of the discussion at the Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting on Thursday, Sept. 4.

It's quite possible that a certain lens setting might produce these images, which, using truncated pieces of the building and a wide-angle lens, suggest that the tower would almost harmonize with nearby row houses. But they do not represent what most people will experience.

This is par for the course in the world of big real estate. As then New York Times architecture  critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote in April 2008, misleading and incomplete renderings produce a "distorted picture of reality" that "stifles what is supposed to be an open, democratic process."

An 18-story tower

Click on image to enlarge
These renderings, which attempt to show a perspective from street level, are better than the hovercraft or helicopter renderings so often used for the arena block.

Note that B14 would be, by far, the smallest tower in terms of both height and bulk, at 18 stories and less than 300,000 square feet. (See list of maximum building heights and square footages at left.)

But somehow this rather large building is portrayed as fitting into the neighborhood. In the rendering above right, the fourth floor of the row house roofline lines up directly with the seventh floor of the tower. (Yes, there's a floor tucked behind that terraced green space.)

The rendering below is more dramatic.
Follow arrow: from the third floor to the sky.
Follow the straight purple line I appended. Somehow, just half a block away, the tower disappears, with the roof line of a three- story row house vanishing into the distance above the 18-story building.

(To reach 18 stories, I count five stories at the level fronting the corner, three more at the first terrace level, eight more above that, plus two more in the background.)

What might an 18-story building look like?

At right the mash-up--not produced by CookFox--is what an 18-story building might look like, straight on.

It's not an accurate representation of what the building would look like from Dean Street--the gateway to the open space portrayed further below.

But it may approximate what the building might look like to someone approaching it walking east along Pacific Street to Carlton Avenue, to the tallest sides of the building.

At left below is a rendering of an 186-foot building planned for New Orleans, the Tracage. Even that perspective is a bit of a hovercraft, but it does show a rather imposing building.

Accentuating the virtues

Consider a Twitter exchange I had with Brooklyn writer Andrew Blum, who counts architecture and design among his specialties. He wrote that he felt "cautiously optimistic" about the designs of B14. I asked what he thought of the perspective in the renderings.

In New Orleans, a building of similar height
"Renderings always lie," he responded. "But very smart to a) bring the street wall to the corners, b) step up the massing, c) keep retail small."

I agree those are prudent choices, though most if not all were already in the Design Guidelines, as indicated below. And I agree that this design is better than, say, importing the more garishly colored B2 tower, which hugs the arena, to this site bordering a historic district.

But that's hardly the full story. As I responded, "Renderings may always lie, but I hope people arent 2 jaded to notice." After all, only more people notice will the developer and the architects stop misleading people.

From the Design Guidelines

The drawing below, from the 2006 Design Guidelines, suggests that the maximum base height on Dean Street is 100 feet at west (Carlton Avenue) and 90 feet at east (open space entrance), and the maximum shoulder height 165 feet. The building steps up, appropriately, going back from Dean Street to Pacific Street. The row houses are likely 40-50 feet tall.

From the 2006 Design Guidelines, Part 3; at left is view from NE corner, at right view from SW (Carlton/Dean)
A more honest rendering, from 2006

In the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued by Empire State Development in November 2006, the below rendering, from Frank Gehry (borrowing but not crediting a photo by Jonathan Barkey), shows the 27-story B15 tower on Dean Street, flush against a set of four-story apartment buildings.

The maximum shoulder height--the next to last level--is 185 feet, just about the size of the B14 tower. That also relies on a wide-angle lens. But at least the tower--and the ones behind it--don't disappear.

The light brown tower at left, on Dean just east of Sixth Avenue and flush to the street and the four-story apartment buildings, must be B15. However, the B15 designation in the graphic seems to be pointing to the building behind it.

Looking at the open space

Another CookFox rendering of B14, at right, shows a slice of the new building on Dean Street, leading to open space and a vague outline of a tower in the back.

This too misleads, on several fronts. Note the extra-wide angle that captures the first three stories of the building flush against Dean Street, while at least seven stories are pictured in the back of the structure.

That building could go back 220 feet, according to the Design Guidelines, though it certainly doesn't look like that here.

The full height of this segment of the building is 90 feet. That's not shown. The tower in the back is several years away, requiring an expensive deck for construction. The tower to the right, visible through the trees, will not be built at the same time.

Only a portion of the open space, which continues in the vague background, will be built along with the tower, since Pacific Street--the largest source of open space--is needed for construction staging.

From the 2006 Design Guidelines, Part 4
Consider the drawing, at left of the open space planned for the eastern third of the project.

B15, which I outlined in blue at lower left, will surely have some green space inside the L-shape of the building.

But it's unlikely that the oval lawn, which requires construction over Pacific Street and likely part of the railyard, will be available for years.

So, the rendering above right might be a representation of what the open space might ultimately look like from a certain perspective, one in which people just a few feet from the lens wind up very small. But it's certainly not a representation of what the open space might look like when B14 opens.

What about that sky garden

Consider another rendering, at right, released last month.

The view of the fifth floor garden leaves the impression that this tower is in keeping with the arboreal nature of the neighborhood.

But, of course, this space is private, not public, so it's an amenity for the residents, less so for the neighborhood.

It's telling, of course, that Greenland Forest City Partners did not provide any perspectives from the north or the west, thus showing the largest part of the building. Par for the course.


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