Skip to main content

Gehry: starchitect, "liberal do-gooder," misreader of community concerns

So here's what I missed when I was blocked from attending the press conference yesterday: architect Frank Gehry, a self-described "do-gooder, liberal," accusing critics in Brooklyn of being, basically, Luddites. “There is progress. There's constant change,” said Gehry, according to NY1. “People aren't riding around on horseback anymore.”

"They should've been picketing Henry Ford," he cracked, according to several news reports.

But Gehry, perhaps because he has been prevented from meeting with local residents concerned about the project, remains fundamentally wrong in his analysis. (Remember, in January, he called the proposed footprint "an empty site.")

And the New York Times (and some other press outlets) let him get away with it. A Times article initially headlined "New Design for Atlantic Yards Presented" and later tweaked online Developer Defends Atlantic Yards Plan for Brooklyn (and in print as "Developer Defends Atlantic Yards, Saying Towers Won't Corrupt the Feel of Brooklyn"), described Gehry as "dismissing critics who oppose high-density development in the borough." (FCR's Jim Stuckey, Gehry, and landscape architect Laurie Olin look rather grim in the Times photo above. That was the only photo that appeared in print, and the article was placed on the bottom half of B5--a distinct, and debatable, contrast to the front-page placement for the unveiling of Gehry's plans 7/5/05.)

But the choice has not been between high-density development and low-density development, as shown by the bid last July for the MTA's Vanderbilt Yard by the Extell Development Corp. (At right is Gehry's latest.)

The Times article said of opponents:
They have backed alternative plans for the site, including proposals by rival developers that would include mostly low-rise buildings and would not require eminent domain.

Actually, there's only been one proposal on the table, from Extell; the Times, in a 7/7/05 article headlined Brooklyn Plan Draws a Rival, And It's Smaller, described the plan as "11 buildings ranging from 4 to 28 stories." However, Real Estate Weekly, in a 7/13/05 article headlined Ratner's Brooklyn dream being hijacked by Extell, more precisely described it as "10 high-rise apartment buildings and one four-story building marked for community use." (You couldn't build 1940 apartments in low-rise buildings; plan is at right.)

In other words, the debate is (very) high-rise vs. high-rise, not high-rise vs. low-rise. Perhaps if some concerned community members or a journalist like me had been in the room yesterday, the misreading wouldn't have emerged. Guess that's Forest City Ratner's strategy.

As Lumi Rolley of NoLandGrab noted, the AP coverage quoted Gehry as saying "It's not an arena in a parking lot, like in the Meadowlands," which is true, but the article neglected to mention Ratner's quietly-unveiled plans to use the eastern portion of the site as surface parking. And the article described the present project footprint as including "ugly industrial buildings," not mentioning two high-end residential conversions and a former bakery that was once slated to be a hotel.

Why now? Was it the movie?

Why did Forest City Ratner hold the press conference yesterday rather than weeks earlier--when the slightly downscaled plan was released--or sometime later? No press outlet offered an explanation, but it might simply have been keyed to the new documentary, Sketches of Frank Gehry, directed by Sydney Pollack, opening today.

Downscaling Dean Street?

The project would be less garish than Gehry proposed last year. "We tried to understand the body language of Brooklyn. ... We tried to respect the scale of the neighborhood," Gehry told reporters, according to Reuters, referring to how his team reduced the height, width, and depth of some of the buildings.

The Times reported:
But in an hourlong presentation, Frank Gehry, the project's architect, and Laurie Olin, its landscape designer, emphasized details that they said would harmonize the project's scale with the neighborhoods it would border. They described shorter and thinner buildings on Dean Street, where the project abuts a mostly low-rise neighborhood...

That's not quite true. The four residential buildings on Dean Street at the project's eastern segement, between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, would be thinner, as I noted--but not the three buildings on Dean Street at the west end of the project.

Would the buildings on Dean Street be shorter, if not thinner? Well, the three buildings at the west end would be 322 feet, 428 feet, and 272 feet. The building that would be 272 feet actually grew by 69 feet from the previous iteration. The building that would be 322 feet would indeed be shorter than the previously-proposed 487 feet. But a 322-foot building at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street hardly harmonizes with the neighborhood it would border.

Open space?

The Times reported:
Mr. Olin dismissed criticism from some community leaders and outside architects that the project's roughly seven acres of open space were too isolated from surrounding streets to be welcoming to residents.
"I don't think one has to worry about trying to draw people into open space in New York City," he said. "If there's open space that isn't closed or fenced in, people find it."

Well, not quite. The photo of Forest City Ratner's MetroTech on a Saturday afternoon, by Brian Carreira for the Brooklyn Rail, shows open space ignored. Yes, it is an office park, not a residential community, but there are residences nearby. Outside architects?

In the New York Observer's blog The Real Estate, the open space issue was treated more skeptically:
The complex will have seven acres of publicly accessible open space, but it will be inside the interior courtyards formed by Gehry's buildings and dwarfed by their height.
Then came the Olin quote.

Coming way back?

The Times described "the developer's decision last month to pare back the project's size by about 5 percent." Actually, the project has grown since originally announced; the cut would be from the previous iteration of the project.

Gehry in January said the project was too big and was "coming way back." In October, he called it "out of scale with the existing area." But the project has been reduced by only five percent.

The Times, to its credit, was the only paper to bring up the issue:
Though Mr. Gehry had previously suggested the project would be scaled back significantly, he was more elusive yesterday, saying that he had been "paring back" the design. "It is a process," he added.

The Times didn't speculate why, but maybe it's just that Gehry isn't in the driver's seat, Stuckey is. Or that another scaleback is planned for a strategic moment.

Better sightlines?

The Times story concluded:
On the Dean Street side of the project, spaces between buildings have also been widened significantly from some early renderings to create better lines of sight from one side of the project to the other."We didn't take this lightly," Mr. Gehry said. "We spent an enormous amount of time studying Brooklyn."

Yes, but spaces between buildings do not a street make; the UNITY Plan proposed (p. 9) "new street extensions to link Fort Greene to Prospect Heights and Park Slope."

Adding context

The Times, last among the dailies, finally acknowledged the new Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board announced earlier in the week--was it the demise of the Boldface Names column just last month that delayed it? The Times was the first daily to report that the Council of Brooklyn Neighborhoods had hired a consultant to coordinate the review of pending Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Still missing from the Times, and print coverage in the rest of the dailies: Forest City Ratner's tower-free brochure, issued just last week, and the complaints by the three Community Boards that FCR has improperly claimed that the boards helped "craft" the Community Benefits Agreement.

The Observer's take

The most incisve piece came from the Observer, in a piece headlined Gehry, Gehry Everywhere... captured a bit of Gehry nuttiness. The 620-foot tower, Miss Brooklyn (oops, maybe the apparent change to Ms. Brooklyn was just a typo, or the work of some p.r. who came to feminism ahead of Gehry) is, the the architect, a woman on the verge:
He likens the tower to an actual Brooklyn bride he saw walking around one day. "She's a bride," he said of the tower, "with her flowing bridal veil--I really overdid it. If you had seen the bride you would--I fell in love with her." The tower to the right is her husband, and the second shiny one to the left is the man she will have an affair with, according to Gehry. Developer Bruce Ratner must really love having an architect who designs unfaithful buildings and tells the press about it!

Reporter Matthew Schuerman was unafraid to come to conclusions:
That different sense of scale, of course, is a lot smaller than the type of bulding he has been commissioned to design here. He does make a few token gestures to fit into the borough, however, but they definitely are tokens. The main one is the "largest stoop in Brooklyn" at the point of Atlantic and Flatbush, in front of the arena.

The dreaded superblock

At a January panel with Gehry, interviewed by Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, there was deep denial that the project would contain a superblock. The Observer snuck the superblock mention into a caption. I didn't see the word used in any other coverage.

FCR's deceptive renderings

Schuerman wrote:
Whether the complex will fit into the surrounding neighborhood of three- and four-story brownstones is very much in the eye of the beholder--and the angel of the camera. Here is Forest City's take on the view north from Carlton and Park Place, with trees in full bloom. (This is a better view of building No. 7, the paramour.)

And then he did a little research:
Here is a similar view, just one block closer, imagined by onNYTurf, a website critical of the project. (It's based on specs from the project that have since been slimmed down a bit.)

The Observer was the only publication to mention the deceptiveness of Forest City Ratner's renderings.


Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

For Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Sept. 19, another bare-bones agenda (green wall?)

A message from Empire State Development (ESD) reminds us that the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting--which aims to update community members on construction and other issues--will be held:
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6 pm
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place
1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn, NY 11217 The typically bare-bones, agenda, below, tells us nothing about the content of the presentation. One thing to look for is any hint of plans to start a new building on the southeast block of the project by the end of the year.

If not, ESD is supposed to re-evaluate a longstanding request from project neighbors to move back a giant wall encroaching on part of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. It's said to enclose construction activity, but, in recent months, has significantly served to protect worker parking.

Also, by the way, if you search for Atlantic Yards on Google or the ESD website, it leads to this page for the Atlantic Ya…