The Forum for Urban Design, a New York-based organization which
convenes the world’s preeminent leaders in architecture, urban planning, design and development -- as well as professionals in government, education and journalism whose work intersects with the built environment -- to discuss and debate the defining issues that face our cities,
conducted a hard-hat tour last Thursday of the new Barclays Center at the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn yesterday.
Set to open 28 September 3012, the Barclays Center (a rendering is shown above) is an 18,000 seat arena that will be home to the NBA’s Brooklyn (formerly, NJ) Nets basketball team—and which is also set up to house ice hockey and musical events. The developer, Bruce Ratner, acquired the Nets in 2004; and his company, Forest City Ratner, is developing the site. (In 2009, Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought majority interest in the Nets, and he holds a minority interest in the arena. This deal rescued the troubled finances of the plan.) The original, more ambitious plan for the Center was done by Frank Gehry; but that plan was scrapped in recession belt tightening and replaced with the current one by Ellerbe Becket (a Minneapolis-based architect, known for his sports arenas) and NYC’s ShoP Architects.
The Atlantic Yards site, at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, is at the northwest corner of Prospect Heights—interestingly near the once-upon-a-time proposed site for the domed stadium to replace Ebbet’s Field that was supposed to keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn (if you are willing to have believed Walter O’Malley). It was developed by building a platform over the tracks of the MTA-owned Vanderbuilt Yards and—most controversially—by taking existing buildings in the remaining area by eminent domain. Construction at the site was delayed until March 2010, when the Brooklyn Supreme Court ruled against the challenge from property owners. (This—to my mind extremely questionable—sort of use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another [with the rationale being to further economic development in an area] has becoming increasingly common since the US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2005 to allow it in Kelo v. City of New London [545 U.S. 469]. The NY Court of Appeals based its decision in favor of the Barclays Center on this ruling; and that ruling then became the basis for the Court of Appeals permitting Columbia University to use eminent domain to obtain the land for its Manhattanville expansion into Harlem.)
The arena itself is the only part of the project currently under construction. The first of three residential towers on the area of “first taking” [q.v., on the site plan, below] will be a 34-story tower that will be built immediately to the south of the arena—actually blocking that segment of the arena’s exterior, when it is built. That will be followed by two other residential towers, also directly adjacent to the arena. There is a plan eventually to build office space on the western edge of the site; but this has been put on indefinite hold, due to the softness of the office space market. All of the promised open space in the plan is to be situated between residential towers in the part of the plan that is not yet under active consideration.
There is virtually no plan for parking at the arena (save for a temporary ground-level lot for ~500 cars on the site of one of the future residential towers), as the avowed intent of the plan is to have this be an arena that is accessed by public transportation. The site is exceptionally reachable by public transportation: it is right at stops for the 2, 3, 4, 5, B, D, Q, N, and R subway lines, and the LIRR’s Atlantic Terminal; and extensive work has been done to connect the arena directly to the mass transit stations involved.
The exterior is quite attractive: three horizontal bands, formed by sheathing a glass curtain wall with two elevations of latticework of pre-weathered steel panels. These variegated panels are quite attractive in the effect they create.
One rather interesting design feature is that the event floor is well below street level, and one enters the arena in the middle of the seating levels. The result is far easier access than in most arenas, where one usually has to ascend significant distances to the seating levels. (The photo below is the main, street level entrance into the arena—crowded with construction debris in this shot.)
This (below) is a picture looking back at that entrance, which is the smaller area above the larger opening to the event floor. (This photograph and the one below it were taken from the double-width luxury box of the owner, Mikhail Prokhorov.)
One can see in the photograph below that the seating has all been situated far forward, closer to the action than in many stadiums. There are two levels of luxury boxes visible along the sides of the long axis of the event floor. One can also see (from a careful viewing of the photos above and below) that the ice hockey configuration (which is what is visibly laid out in these pictures) is off-center in this arena. This asymmetrical layout is a result of the reduction of the arena’s plan from the Gehry version to the current one; it results in some limited visibility in the west end seats, and in there being ~3,500 fewer seats in the hockey configuration of the arena than in the basketball configuration, making it small for an NHL hockey venue.
The street-level entrance to the stadium also is designed to allow passers-by to see into the arena when events are in progress.