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Dumbo’s Bright Elephant

A young architect builds an improbable answer to the Empire State Building.

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A curious landmark has risen in Brooklyn. With its quasi-trapezoidal profile, soaring white trusses, and close-enough-to-collect-tolls proximity to the Manhattan Bridge, the building has become a major architectural presence in the borough, leaving Dumbo residents and passing drivers to wonder what it is.

“I spent quite a few hours walking around trying to figure it out,” says Jonah Zuckerman, a furniture designer in Dumbo. “It seemed somehow significant, but I was surprised by how many people knew nothing about it.” He had his own pet theory: “I got it into my head that it was [avant-garde artist and architect] Vito Acconci’s studio. It somehow reminded me of his work.”

And then there are the lights. On any given night, the building’s trusses are swathed in purples and reds and greens. “When that started happening, there seemed to be a dialogue between it and the Empire State Building,” says architect Elaine Didyk, a Boerum Hill resident who surveyed the building’s progress on trips into Manhattan. “One weekend, this thing was undulating through the full spectrum of its color potential. It was really on. I thought, They’re making a statement; they’re locating Brooklyn.”

The “Jetsons” building, as it has been dubbed, is the work of Dedy Blaustein, a 32-year-old architect with Scarano & Associates, which occupies the space. Blaustein had just graduated from Pratt when he presented his ideas for the 5,200-square-foot rooftop addition to his boss, Robert Scarano. His inspiration was right outside the window: “We’re not the main thing here,” he says, gesturing toward the bridge. “That is the main thing here. It’s so dynamic. I had to do something crazy.”

And since the building wasn’t landmarked, “something crazy” didn’t raise eyebrows in the permit process: “As long as you’re in compliance with the approved height and floor area,” says Blaustein, “nobody says you can’t do a building that’s a different shape.”

Blaustein says that tourists stop by, film scouts call, truck drivers honk, and cabbies offer upturned thumbs. (So far, no rubbernecking accidents have been attributed to the design.) But not everyone is impressed. “To call it a train wreck would be almost accurate,” says one Dumbo architect. Blaustein responds: “I didn’t design it for people to like it, I designed it for people not to be able to ignore it.”

As for the lights, Blaustein employs a Color Kinetics LED system. “I’m the only one who knows how to operate it.” He has thousands of color combinations, and effects that put a Pink Floyd laser light show to shame. His only mandate is to be “funkier” than the Empire State Building, but sometimes he forgets to change the colors.

“That’s so Brooklyn,” says Didyk. “A guy at his desktop who’s like, ‘I forgot to change the lights today.’ Meanwhile, people are driving by and wondering, What does the green mean?


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