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Architecture critics slam Markowitz for claiming arena "celebrates Brooklyn's industrial heritage"

Appearing today on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show, architecture critics Francis Morrone and Paul Goldberger gave generally positive reviews to the new Atlantic Yards arena, though they acknowledged it couldn't be judged in isolation, given the controversies about the design, funding, and viability of the project as a whole.

"It's a building that will have some meaning to some people who are not actually going into it to attend a basketball game," Goldberger said. "The question is: is liking that building enough, given the context in which it exists?"

"Considering it solely as intellectual exercise, I think it's the best of the arena designs," Morrone said. He criticized original architect Frank Gehry for saying he drew inspiration from the Brooklyn Bridge.

Goldberger acknowledged a "troubling bait-and-switch" to the process, given that Gehry was crucial to getting the project passed but then was cast aside.

Replacing the mall

Lehrer suggested that the new design from SHoP (with Ellerbe Becket) is better integrated into the street and surrounding neighborhood than the previous Ellerbe Becket rendering--though he didn't cite the absence of the surrounding towers in the arena block.

"It's a project that I would probably be behind 100 percent if Forest City Ratner were proposing to place it on the site of the Atlantic Center Mall," said Morrone, who's also a member--though it wasn't mentioned--of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn's Advisory Board.

"That's a great idea," assented Goldberger, architecture critic for the New Yorker.

Slamming Markowitz

Both critics took aim at the quote from Borough President Marty Markowitz, who called the arena "a luminous, iconic structure that celebrates Brooklyn’s industrial heritage."

"Now, I think of Brooklyn's industrial heritage and there are people who want to try to bring back manufacturing to Brooklyn," Lehrer mused. "This is instead building a high-rise complex..., and a sports arena. So... Is there something a little untoward about invoking Brooklyn's industrial heritage here or is there is at least something visually accurate?"

"When I heard that from Marty Markowitz, I honestly didn't know whether to laugh or cry," Morrone replied. "Among other things, Forest City Ratner has been demolishing wonderful Brooklyn industrial buildings as part of this project, including Ward Bakery, which was one of the best industrial buildings ever built in Brooklyn.
To demolish those buildings--which, by the way, were big sound buildings that I think a really imaginative developer would've tried to preserve and incorporate into the larger project. It's just one of many ways in which, in addition to all of the problems people always cite about the Atlantic Yards project, it was a tremendous lost opportunity to do something really great. But anyway, given that Ward Bakery and other buildings were demolished--to say that this building celebrates Brooklyn's industrial heritage is really actually a pretty disgusting thing to say."

"I agree with Francis," Goldberger said. "I think that line wins the prize for the most disingenuous architectural comment of the year."

(Note that the Ward Bakery, in the background, has been demolished, while the building in the foreground remains the subject of a court battle.)