New AY design seems tired and middle-aged

By James Gardner | September 10, 2009 01:52PM

Yesterday the office of Bruce Ratner, Atlantic Yards developer and Forest City Ratner Companies CEO, released renderings of a new design for the stadium he hopes to develop at Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn.

As so often in New York, it represents an odd, even cynical, compromise. You may recall that the original stadium, a shimmering and iconic titanium mirage, was designed by Frank Gehry. Immediately controversial and expensive, it divided New York between those who opposed it in the name of preserving Brooklyn’s small-town spirit and those who loudly endorsed it in the name of progressive architecture.

All of that was rendered moot, however, when Gehry was unceremoniously fired from the development back in June. Whatever one thought of his design — and some of us thought very little of it — at least it had guts and personality to spare.

Thus it was with a sense of morbid inevitability that one awakened back in June to the news that the new Nets stadium design, by the paltry firm of Ellerbe Becket, was so boring and predictable, so hangar-like and so inept, that it made even the new Citifield look chic and avant-garde.

No sooner was their rendering made public than a howl of disappointment was heard throughout the five boroughs. Apparently bowing to pressure, Ratner quickly engaged the architecture services of SHoP, who at least have some vanguardist credentials under their belt.

But the product they have unveiled seems to partake of the weakest elements of both earlier designs. Even in the gussied-up rendering — where, traditionally, even weak designs look snazzy — this looks weary and uninspired. For all the world, the copper-colored carapace of the building recalls the exoskeleton of a cockroach, while the attenuated front part, terminating at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, brings to mind the proboscis of a rhinoceros beetle.

Though it is true that SHoP has avoided the dull symmetries of Ellerbe Becket, they have managed to make deconstructivism seem tired, gratuitous and middle-aged. This is what happens when a developer has no aesthetic compass and when an architectural firm has only a few weeks to develop a design which the good citizens of Brooklyn may very well rue for a century to come.

James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several publications.