Skip to main content

Atlantic Yards Alternatives? Architects redistribute bulk from Dean Street, revise open space; a "preposterous amount of square footage"

The first thing to recognize about "Five Proposals for the Future of Atlantic Yards," a new exhibition--regarding Phase 2, only--at the Warehouse Gallery in Prospect Heights, is that none of the proposals, no matter how interesting, is likely to be built.

In fact, two towers for the project's Phase 2 are said to be starting within the next year, on the southeast block of the project site.

So the exhibition is more an intriguing exercise--with an understandable element of self-promotion--than a viable alternative. (That said, if the deck over the railyard never gets built, some piece of an alternative plan could emerge. So go see the exhibition, through June 22, Tuesday-Sunday, 11 am to pm, at 623 Bergen Street, just west of Vanderbilt Avenue, near the Atlantic Yards site.)

The second thing is that this differs significantly from the UNITY Plan, the last major proposal for (part of) the site, since the latter made no attempt to match Forest City Ratner's ambitious, humongous scale and the new exhibition does not result from community consultation.

While these new projects do match the density of Forest City's plan (mostly), they attempting to revise the public space, jettisoning Forest City's "towers in a park" plan, and bulk to harmonize better with the urban context, for example with far smaller buildings on the southeast block of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt Avenues.

Unlike UNITY, which in its most recent incarnation somewhat counter-intuitively stressed bulk near Vanderbilt, these new projects emphasize bulk closer to the arena block and Atlantic Avenue.

The third thing to recognize is the tension behind the statement, as professed in the background material for Atlantic Yards Alternatives, that the "schemes will show that the proposed density is not inherently problematic if distributed properly on the site."

After all, at the lively exhibition opening last night, one architect involved in the project acknowledged, in casual conversation with a skeptical resident, "In the end, it's a preposterous amount of square footage."

The fourth thing is that some of the projects, expressed in renderings as well as three-dimensional models, included the Barclays Center arena and three towers around the arena block, and the absence of B1, the flagship office tower and largest building (aka "Miss Brooklyn") is glaring, and helps make the giant project more publicly accessible.

The fifth thing is that nearly all the projects ignored B15, the 272-foot tower scheduled to be built just east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets.

Indeed, as seen at right, the schematic for even distribution of the units ignores B15 completion. (Note that the project directors suggest a density of 220 units per acre; Atlantic Yards' overall density, with 6430 apartments over 22 acres, would be 292 unites per acre.)

The sixth thing to recognize is that most of the architects have spent more time on the overall plan than building design, which means the buildings mostly look blocky--and would have to become more detailed and differentiated to pass muster with architecture critics.

The seventh thing to recognize is, were these projects to become more viable, they'd be subject to the kind of scrutiny and sniping that Unity faced, with Forest City Ratner claiming that alternatives were not financeable nor buildable. (Well, Atlantic Yards has not been built on schedule, either.)

It's questionable whether vertical open space over housing would be acceptable to residents, for example, or how new sites could be added north of Atlantic Avenue, or who would pay to move the Long Island Rail Road terminal to the Atlantic Yards site (or why that makes sense, given the distance from the subway hub).

Comments a few architects made to me 

Update: Nor would it necessarily work for the subsidized housing. An architect writes to me:
The proposals were refreshing to look at, they were very academic, or at least reflective of design ideas trendy in architecture schools these days. Not really realistic about function, structure, and inhabitability but that was not the point.... the physical realities of efficiently laying out HPD / HUD design standards for the units and the need for very economical structure and building enclosure systems tend to yield certain results which don’t allow for swoopy shapes, huge areas of glass, or daring structural cantilevers and long spans.
Another writes:
The fact that they are not viable alternatives and not really meant to be implemented is a common architectural exercise, and in fact constitutes architectural training. The point is to say something about an approach.
And it appears that some did, to a greater of lesser degree. For example, pointing out the difference of scale between Atlantic Avenue and Dean Street is a significant point, recognizing that Prospect Heights is complete. Extending the grid of the surrounding areas and proposing suitable development on other sites is an important issue, and missing in most discussion to date.
Soliciting actually implementable ideas would result in a different kind of exhibit - not so much an architectural issue as a planning and policy issue. That exhibit would examine the 2006 master plan, which was not primarily an architectural concept but an approach to development. One might expect guidelines that respect the city context and existing conditions on and off the site while providing for opportunities for a range of developers.
From the background information:
The “Atlantic Yards: Five Proposals” exhibit will show five alternative designs for the Phase II portion of the FCRC scheme. Phase II includes the three blocks east of 6th Avenue, and is slated to receive 4,278,000 S.F. of residential space (4,320 units), 156,000 S.F. of retail space, and 1,324 parking spaces. Each of the five schemes incorporates the approved bulk and square footage in order to present a parallel comparison with the FCRC plan.
​The projects explore the site’s development potential while respecting historic scale and context, activating public-private space interaction, and integrating characteristics of the urban streets that surround the site. Each project aims to underline possibilities to create:
- meaningful public space within the development
- relationship to the adjacent urban context
- a sustainable and healthful environment
​Each project accepts the benefits of high-density, high-rise urban development located adjacent to existing urban infrastructure as a sustainable approach to development.
The five proposals are intended to illustrate alternative architectural possibilities to the community through schemes that are equally profitable for the developer. The schemes will show that the proposed density is not inherently problematic if distributed properly on the site. The exhibition will open up a dialogue about the site’s potential, giving the community a deeper understanding of architectural and urban planning possibilities to properly develop one of the most significant large scale sites in New York City
 The Garden in the Machine

One of the most developed examples came from organizer Thomas Barry, whose OPerA Studio Architecture produced The Garden in the Machine, which places open space in the air:
The OPerA scheme reconciles these shifts ​ in scale through the use of three definition planes. A ground floor plane varies to create storefront retail spaces, community facilities and public spaces; a second plane slopes gently from the low-rise buildings of Prospect Heights to midrise height at Atlantic Avenue; a third plane slopes from the center of the site to the Northwest Corner where it meets the Barclays Center and Atlantic Terminal Mall to define the roofline of four residential towers. The tops of these planes are public green spaces which are varied to provide areas for different activities. Connecting these planes and the green space to the ground are a series of garden paths which carve along the exterior of the structures. Residential units and common spaces open onto the garden paths to create a porous connective urban fabric.
Flexible City

Flexible City, by Matthias Altwicker and Farzana Gandhi, looks daunting but has open space at ground level (which raises questions about access to sun):
In a climate shaped by rapid economic turnover, ubiquitous high-rise, high-density, superblock developments fail to acknowledge change over time: a change in use, a change in infrastructural needs, and a change in built context and environment. This alternative proposal for Atlantic Yards embraces the developer’s outsized program as a challenge to offer a new model for urban development at this scale - one that is programmatically, infrastructurally, and contextually flexible to the forces that define its long-standing value. Value is defined by both its relevance in the community as well as its resulting profitability. Flexibility is achieved through a complete separation of inhabitable volume and infrastructure.

​Through this separation, each element is allowed to operate at full potential. Various re-use scenarios and contextual relationships can be optimized while also offering new typologies and scales of open space. Volumes move freely across the site and plug into its infrastructural wrapper at core locations. 8 story volumes, constructed as 4 double height floors, can be programmed with housing, commercial, or manufacturing space. Single story plates lie above and below each program volume and double as public indoor / outdoor space and green zones. The potential misalignments between volumes effectively doubles the square footage for both green infrastructure and public space.
Vertical Lots

Amoia Cody Architecture produced Vertical Lots, which continues the street grid as internal passages but leaves the entry pathways from Atlantic Avenue covered:
Our idea is to create a set of buildings that despite being quite large fit into their context. The title “Vertical Lots” is referential to the typical lots that dominate the traditional brownstone townhouse developments that surround the Atlantic Yards. These old buildings were originally developed as one and two family townhomes, each with its own private rear yard, set within a courtyard block. Our project seeks to emulate this prototypical development, but in a vertical arrangement within a courtyard block.

The typical horizontal lot townhouse of 4 stories is comprised of 1, 2, 3 or 4 families + a rear yard. Each floor in these vertical lots has 1, 2, 3 or 4 families + a terrace “yard”. These terraces are 1, 2, 3 or 4 stories and are carved from the vertical mass reducing bulk and developing a landscape in the sky, the vertical lots. The towers are set on an angle to match the street context of Fort Greene. The base of the courtyard block is on the grid of Prospect Heights. The big scale of Atlantic Avenue permits large scale towers, but small scale Dean Street does not. The buildings along Dean Street are no more than 6 stories matching the tallest buildings along Dean Street. The towers vary in height to a maximum of 50 stories. This height matches the tallest of the buildings now under construction around Barclays. The skewed angle of the tower permits sight lines to continue along the streets in Fort Greene and reduces the bulk when viewing from Prospect Heights.
Quilted City

Joshua Zinder Architecture and Design produced Quilted City, which ambitiously moves the rail terminal:
Quilted City acts to unify the neighborhoods which bound the Atlantic Rail yards with the insertion of layered urban, public space in the center of the site, creating an active, open, and varied environment for the surrounding neighborhoods. This is done by understanding and responding to the size and scale of its immediate context, by creating new green space and breezeways for all residents, and by relocating the Atlantic Terminal for the LIRR and subway to the west end of the site. 
The buildings of Quilted City are arranged in layers, the first of which defines the edge of the bounding blocks and mirrors the height of the buildings along Pacific and Dean streets. A variety of commercial activities would occur at ground level and extend down to the concourse and tracks below, while the floors above are devoted to residences. As you move into the site, individual residential buildings of larger scales are placed in various locations, helping to mold a series of public spaces within the site. The largest of these public spaces, matching in size with Times Square, aligns itself axially with the Barclay’s Arena and the proposed location of the Atlantic Terminal. The terminal was relocated to the development in order to animate the internal green space, to give it a constant source of life and movement...
10 Blocks

David Cunningham Architecture Planning produced 10 Blocks, which offers a wee bit of an intervention outside the site north of Atlantic Avenue:
Atlantic Yards is an opportunity. Rather than impose new structures on the site, we have chosen to make repairs to the city that already surrounds this crossroads. We begin Fort Greene Park to the north and Prospect Park to the south. Both parks have contributed to the distribution of fresh water to the citizens of Brooklyn. A 6.5 Acre linear public space styled as a reservoir is proposed to bond these two solitary hills into a single network. Moving down the slopes from each park, we encounter two distinct brownstone neighborhoods. Fort Greene features blocks with their long axis oriented north-south and primary streets running east-west. In Prospect Heights, the long face of the blocks are oriented loosely east-west with major streets arranged on an approximate north-south axis.
To bind the two districts together, their underlying grids are combined, creating a group of nine blocks where previously there were only three. By introducing new buildings on both sides of Atlantic Avenue and refashioning the roadway as a functioning valley, a traffic artery is converted to a parkway. By collecting, filtering and storing storm water, Atlantic Valley aims to provide relief to the overtaxed nearby Gowanus Canal. Finally there is the matter of the program. The brief calls for 4.3 million square feet of new housing (4,300 new units). To avoid overwhelming the adjacent brownstone neighborhoods, project density is redistributed in three ways. First, the average gross square footage is reduced from 1,000 s.f. per apartment to 850 s.f. Second, program is transferred to Block 1, which was originally assigned to phase 1. Third, a series of seven new sites on the north side of Atlantic Avenue are incorporated into the project footprint.


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…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in February 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


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…