What’s in a name? In projecting the future of the intersection of Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth Avenues, what you call the area means a lot. Call it Atlantic Yards, as developer Forest City Ratner does, and you see a march—or perhaps a fashion show—of sixteen towers in glass, metal, and brick marching down Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, supplanting Grand Army Plaza’s arch as the gateway to the 21st-century borough. This name pulls Downtown Brooklyn to the heart of the brownstone belt, attracting tenants who want to look at, but not necessarily touch, the old Brooklyn at their feet.
“We don’t want to build tall for the sake of tall,” says Forest City Ratner spokesman Jim Stuckey. “Frank’s view—and this is shared by many architects and planners—is that this intersection should be more dense because of its proximity to the rail yards and public transportation. Frank Gehry can frame the Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower”—the current tallest, at 512 feet, compared with the 620 feet of Gehry’s main tower, Miss Brooklyn—“and make it a postcard with other buildings around it.”
The good things about the Atlantic Yards are the Nets and the promise of 15,000 union construction jobs, contracts for minority and women-owned businesses, 2,250 affordable rentals, and a day-care and senior center. The bad thing is the shocking size. “The challenge will be traffic management,” says Alper. “There’s already not great traffic in downtown Brooklyn.” Possible solutions focus on incentivizing use of the area’s abundant public transportation to get to games: congestion pricing on streets and in parking garages, ticket prices linked to transport mode, and residential-parking permits for adjacent areas.
Opponents have been dissed, by Gehry himself, as both Luddites afraid of progress and as middle-class gentrifiers unsympathetic to the need for local jobs.
But there could be a kinder, gentler, Brooklynized version of the titanium town, one which contains all the positive elements of Atlantic Yards but one with a little more of the local and cultural flavor of the bam Cultural District next door. “We’re an important amenity for these other projects,” says BAM LDC president Jeanne Lutfy.
The tallest building in this scheme would remain the bank tower, now rebranded One Hanson Place, with a Borders bookstore in the landmarked lobby. Three Gehry towers, including a shorter Miss Brooklyn (and one with a better tiara), step down from that height on both sides of Flatbush, for that postcard view with plenty of room for offices and a hotel. Another tower, residential above arts spaces, is built on the BAM LDC’s north site. Beyond this, everything gets lower. No more 300- and 400-foot slabs surrounding a park, but an actual streetfront park, faced by blocks of new townhouses, shorter apartment buildings, and maybe even a school. To make sure Ratner makes his money back, apartment buildings of fifteen to twenty stories could be built opposite the taller structures on Atlantic.
The Nets will still play, but the new neighborhood is not built around a carpetbagger mix of sports bars, back-office white-collar jobs, and condo owners priced out of Manhattan. It is not Gehryville, but more of what people bought in Brooklyn for.
The Brooklyn Skyline
(buildings over 25 stories)
(Miss Brooklyn 58 stories, plus nine other towers)
306 and 313 Gold Street (35 and 40 stories)
Palmer’s Dock (29, 30, and 40 stories)
167 Johnson Place (35 and 40 stories)
The Edge (35 stories)
Brooklyn Bridge Park tower (30 stories)
(1.) 306 and 313 Gold Street
Ismael Leyva, 306 Gold Street, 2008; 313 Gold Street, no completion date.
(2.) Thor Equities Tower
Perkins Eastman, 2009.
(3. & 4.) BAM Cultural District
Theatre for a New Audience
Hugh Hardy & Frank Gehry, no completion date.
Visual & Performing Arts Library
TEN Arquitectos, no completion date.
Long before Frank Gehry arrived, the BAM Local Development Corporation brought glamorous architecture to Brooklyn. Rem Koolhaas and Diller Scofidio + Renfro developed a conceptual plan for the blocks around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, imagining a mix of artists’ lofts, offices, a hotel, plus public projects to make the cultural presence more visible to passersby, “acculturating” the neighborhood to bam-itude. The subsequent moves of the LDC have been far more grounded. ten Arquitectos won a 2002 competition for a Visual and Performing Arts Library on a triangular lot at the corner of Flatbush and Ashland Place, and Hugh Hardy and Frank Gehry teamed up for the Theatre for a New Audience, at the south end of the same block. The latter is supposed to start construction in 2007; the former is having trouble with fund-raising. Other projects—a studio building, more cultural institutions—have yet to be proposed.
(5.) Williamsburg Savings Bank conversion
H. Thomas O’Hara Architect, 2008.
(6.) South Tower
Scarano Architects, 2009.
(7.) Atlantic Yards
Gehry Partners, phase one, 2010; phase two, 2016.
When Bruce Ratner announced in 2004 that he had bought the New Jersey Nets, and hired Frank Gehry to build them a new stadium in Brooklyn, it caused some cognitive dissonance. Ratner’s previous Brooklyn developments had been the deserted-feeling MetroTech downtown, and the actively unpleasant Atlantic Center Mall. But this time, he said, he was going to do it right, give Brooklyn a team, give the borough a skyline, bring in the stars. As soon as the neighbors saw the plan—8.2 million square feet, then 9.2, now 8.7 again—with sixteen towers from 180 to 620 feet, the fighting began. Gehry seems almost incidental in this battle about what makes Brooklyn Brooklyn.