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Unbuilt towers and a hovercraft perspective: what's wrong with common Barclays Center rendering (plus an accurate panorama from Tracy Collins)

Not a photograph but a rendering, with chimerical towers
and a distorted perspective that shrinks the arena
What does the Barclays Center really look like? A common rendering from SHoP Architects (used on the official Atlantic Yards web site and an arena operations presentation) appears at right, misleading viewers with unbuilt towers and a hovercraft perspective.

(Yes, this is part of the Culture of Cheating.)
The image, for example, appears on Time Out, which says:
The controversial Atlantic Yards development—stalled by eminent-domain lawsuits and recessional money woes—took nearly a decade, but finally the project's centerpiece, the 18,000-seat Barclays Center, will begin hosting events in September. Most notably, the arena will be home to the borough's first major pro sports team since the Dodgers left in 1957, when the Brooklyn Nets start the 2012–13 NBA season. Before they hit the court, team minority owner Jay-Z will christen the space with an inaugural series of concerts....
What it really looks like

Photographer Tracy Collins went to the north side of Atlantic Avenue outside the Atlantic Terminal mall and attempted to duplicate the perspective, coming up with the image below, a panorama of four photos.

Panorama copyright Tracy Collins; permission required for re-use
What's wrong

In a discussion with Collins, we discerned several distortions in the rendering by SHoP.

First, the hovercraft effect. Collins's photo is shot at eye level, about six feet up. The rendering appears to be the work of someone standing on his shoulder. Note the height of the subway entrance.

Second, the rendering portrays the arena as far less broad than in Collins's panorama. Had he moved further east down Atlantic Avenue to Fort Greene Place to be more precise--and to line up the edge of the subway entrance with the letters R and C of "BARCLAYS," the arena would have stretched even more horizontally. It would have been wider, and the canopy would have been even more prominent. It might have been impossible to get "BARCLAYS CENTER" fully in the photo.

Third, consider that in the SHoP image, the Atlantic Center mall is roughly the same height as the arena. Collins's panorama suggests that the arena, which peaks at 137 feet, is bigger.

Fourth, take a look at the tiny automobiles along Atlantic Avenue in the rendering. The vantage point in the SHoP image is actually closer to the Atlantic Center mall on the north side of Atlantic, but the cars are far smaller than in Collins's panorama.

Another view

A few days earlier, I went out to the plaza and, without attempting a panorama, tried to fit in the edge of the mall and the arena.

Obviously, I couldn't do it. But I couldn't create the hovercraft perspective either.

Note that the arena is clearly larger than the mall.

The lesson

Misleading renderings are nothing new. Earlier Atlantic Yards renderings from architect Frank Gehry were even more misleading--take, for example, the image below, released in July 2005. That's not even from a hovercraft; we're in a helicopter.


That drew praise, not dismay, from Nicolai Ouroussoff, then architecture critic for the New York Times.

But Ouroussoff finally wised up, more or less, criticizing deceptive renderings. In an April 2008 essay headlined Now You See It, Now You Don’t, he focused on Tishman Speyer's Hudson Yards plan:
I don’t mean to single out Tishman Speyer for criticism here. On the contrary, the company represents the norm. Like most developers it probably sees architectural renderings as just one element of an elaborate marketing campaign. I’m sure it’s even proud of its designs. But the end result is a distorted picture of reality, one that stifles what is supposed to be an open, democratic process.
Now that the arena is pretty much done, shouldn't publications rely on photos rather than misleading renderings?

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