An architecture critic's thoughts on revisiting buildings, and why that applies to the Barclays Center
Justin Davidson, architecture and classical music critic for New York magazine, offered a thoughtful quote, excerpted below, noting that critics must also be reporters and that criticism usually goes beyond esthetics (an indirect knock, some might say, against previous critics like the New York Times's Herbert Muschamp):
In order to be effective, architecture critics have to look beyond architecture. I got into this business because I loved writing and I loved beautiful buildings. The deeper I dive, the more aware I am of the overlapping areas of expertise that get called into play every time the easy equipment shows up: finance, planning, zoning, activism, preservation, politics, performing arts, engineering, retail, gentrification, transit, industry, the waterfront, housing policy, climate change, social history, literature, psychology, acoustics, and more.Davidson notes that there's too little criticism, around the country, of the built environment and adds:
The other thing that’s missing is a willingness to revisit buildings a year or two or more after they’ve opened to see how they fare in the real world. Too often, we see buildings in their pristine (or even incomplete) state, empty and theoretical.The example he offers is the Whitney Museum, where he "missed a lot of the basic circulation and functionality problems that materialized later."
The Barclays Center as "ready-made monument"
Based on that wise advice, I'd suggest that Davidson's encomium to the Barclays Center, published 9/21/12, before the arena opened, was too generous. Headlined Barclays Center Is Brooklyn’s Ready-Made Monument, Davidson, a vivid, writer, described the building: "a great, tough-hided beast of a building lies defiantly curled."
But his description of Barclays as "juiced, genial, and aggressive all at once" deserves a significant caveat, given that the oculus, "the hyperactive digital spectacle [that] turns inward," has periodically also disturbed nearby neighbors on Pacific Street, and the "18,000 Barbra Streisand fans [who] converge on Flatbush Avenue," as he wrote prospectively, led to many black cars/limos double parking, honking and otherwise disturbing neighbors.
"Making nice" to neighbors?
Wrote Davidson, again prospectively:
For all its swagger, the arena makes nice to the neighbors in various ways. It offers virtually no new parking, which means fans will arrive by public transit or not at all. The ground floor is lined with stores that open toward the sidewalk. To avoid clogging roadways, trucks swing into the Dean Street loading docks and ride elevators to a massive underground turntable that positions them in their respective bays....While Brooklyn Nets games indeed draw significant numbers of subway riders (and even walkers), there are other options besides taking public transit: many fans and staffers do drive, to the general area, to take advantage of free, on-street parking.
Special events like Streisand and kid-oriented events like the circus draw lots of limos and drop-offs, many double-parking or idling at hydrants. Some other events draw scads of buses.
As to the ground floor stores, they've been mostly a bust, beyond the arena store, today called Swag Shop, with Flatbush Avenue space used for a PIX11 studio (no more, apparently) and a showroom for the 550 Vanderbilt condo building. Street-facing retail outlets on less-trafficked Atlantic Avenue quickly gave up that effort.
The loading dock doesn't always work smoothly, which means traffic jams on Dean Street and/or vehicles using the street and sidewalk to park or stage deliveries.
The scoreboard is always visible from that plaza, and there’s something touchingly quaint about the idea that fans left outside in the cold would check for live updates by peering inside rather than simply glancing down at their phones.And, actually, the scoreboard is not "always visible from that plaza," but rather seen fractionally, often behind a layer of promotional signage.
About that rust
Davidson wrote that the pre-rusted panels of the arena's exterior "may be more capricious than anyone was expecting," but didn't assess or predict the impact of rust dripping on the sidewalk.
The promised "power wash" never happened or didn't work, and the sidewalk panels are deeply stained--some are being replaced.
A later critic's take
A little more than a month after the arena opened, on 11/1/12, the New York Times's Michael Kimmelman, also praised the arena, but took a broader look, in An Arena as Tough as Brooklyn. But Street Smart? He enjoyed his experience at both a concert and a Nets game but wrote:
The sound system needs adjusting, and alarming reports have surfaced via the local watchdog-blogger Norman Oder from neighbors complaining about noise and vibrations.Still, he added:
But crowd circulation is smooth, and the steeply raked seats, accommodating up to 18,000 fans, provide excellent sightlines for basketball, even from the nosebleed sections. The black-box vibe, with its gray-and-eggplant palette and terrazzo concourse, distinguishes it from Madison Square Garden, exuding a sophisticated chill, warmed by an eager, Disney-trained staff.Indeed, the staff is friendly and the sightlines are good, though others spending time in the cheap seats, like the author Rafi Kohan, have found the experience stratified, and several people have filed suit, charging that the steep rake is dangerous.
Kimmelman rightly pointed out that "Dire predictions about Carmageddon and post-event drunken mobs spilling into surrounding streets have not panned out, so far anyway," but was not ready to assess the impact of special events like Streisand or the periodic rowdiness of certain crowds, such as for boxing, wrestling, or hockey. (He couldn't predict the dripping rust, either.)
Also, like Davidson, he gave too much credence to the loading dock, writing:
No, this isn’t a beautiful or ingratiating building, but it’s technologically smart, with an underground turntable for trucks that may sound eye-rollingly dull but makes traffic engineers like the city’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, swoon because it reduces the number of backing up and double-parked 16-wheelers on nearby streets like Dean.