First Review of the LIBOR Fixer Center (aka Barclays Center) Is In. It's Not So Good
Though architectural criticism of a boondoggle is kind of besides the point, we know that there is a coming barrage. Critic Alexandra Lange takes the first critical look at the arena exterior and finds it alien to its surroundings, dark and, like renderings, "dematerializes" the neighbors. And the "The Barclays logo speaks only of corporate branding, without a lilt."
Her overall thesis is that housing should have come first. And she is right.
What Comes Second: The Lesson of the Barclays Center
Culture Desk [NewYorker.com]
by Alexandra Lange
As you walk east along Atlantic Avenue, the new Barclays Center appears first as a dark shape on the horizon. Off center, a wrapped package with a mysterious silhouette. Coming closer, the foreground reveals itself as a long, paved triangle, an on-ramp to the steep planted wedge that forms the roof of the renamed Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center subway station. The roof of the arena dips down in welcome, its brow displaying the brand-new Barclays Center signs in Carolina blue, their color and serifed font making an uneasy contrast with the arena’s red-brown weathering-steel wrapper. The wrapper was designed by SHoP Architects, and the tough mesh speaks of the industrial past and the digital present, an image reinforced by the pulsing screens lining the cut-out entrance canopy. The Barclays logo speaks only of corporate branding, without a lilt. Given the bank’s recent scandals, it may be helpful that the signage can be switched out.
The arena itself cannot be switched out. After nine contentious years, it is here. My first reaction, standing opposite on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues is: it is big. Much bigger than I expected. The only arena that I am familiar with as a pedestrian is Madison Square Garden, a circular box in a forest of surrounding towers. You never see the bulk of it plain. On television, the cameras shoot arenas from above, turning surrounding parking lots into wallpaper, and emphasizing the shape and edge. But here there’s nothing to obscure, soften, or relate to the arena, which occupies more than a city block. The width of the surrounding streets allows the Barclays Center to stand in relief as the alien presence it is. The architect Gregg Pasquarelli recently described the arena to the New York Times as what might happen if “Richard Serra and Chanel created a U.F.O. together.”
My second reaction was dismay. I do not think the arena’s architecture should relate better to the context. The immediate context is the developer Forest City Ratner’s two cheaply clad, faux-historicist malls across Atlantic Avenue. The larger context is the lowrise brownstone neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. To relate to the first would be depressing; to relate to the second, impossible. The real building is an exact analogue to the renderings of this site, which, like so many other renderings, blur and dematerialize the neighbors. All you can see is the Barclays Center, because it is big, because it is dark, because it is without scale. The subway entrance, a potentially quotidian and relateable moment, is veiled by a ski-ramp roof. There is a cove of wooden benches in front of it, then more gray pavers leading you under the oculus to the front door. Right now, tended by lifts, the entrance suggests space portal more than porte-cochère.
What the Barclays Center does is create a whole new context. A bolder, gutsier, lunar context that suggests not that the arena is too big, but that the neighborhood is too small. What would make the arena fit is towers—towers like the sixteen buildings approved, over a twenty-five-year period, for the eastern stretch of the site. Do I want those towers to be built now, just to make the arena work?
The arena was always a Trojan horse: its stars (Jay-Z), its original starchitect (Frank Gehry), and its semi-public function (bringing pro basketball to Brooklyn) have been used to make the development of the Vanderbilt rail yard seem like a reward rather than an imposition. In 2009, Gehry left the project, adding his arena and tower designs to the long list of New York’s famous unrealized buildings. SHoP’s façade is the aesthetic opposite of Gehry’s shiny petals, but it has the same disruptive potential. If what comes first is a designer U.F.O., what comes second rises to meet the strangeness. What is built on the rest of the rail yards is highly unlikely to come back down to the height of a brownstone cornice. How different the future of this corner might have been if the development had started instead with housing or even with the planned public park.
It needs to be noted that there is no planned park.