Architecture review: Barclays transit center — a Postmodern disappointment

But the Ellerbe Becket-designed station is an improvement on the arena itself, our critic says
By James Gardner | September 21, 2012 09:00AM

Because I have already weighed in on the Barclays Center, I will limit my comments on the stadium itself — the ribbon cutting for the venue takes place this morning — to saying that it is about as tawdry and uninspired a piece of work as I had anticipated. Let me also say that it was none too reassuring to hear the developer, Bruce Ratner, beaming with pride in his new stadium, as he announced to a NY1 reporter that he was planning to build residences nearby that would be designed, not by Frank Gehry or Shop Architects, as originally planned, but by the same architecture firm, AECOM (formerly known as Ellerbe Becket) that conceived the misbegotten Barclays Center. Slightly better than the stadium itself, but not by much, is the subway station that takes you to and from it.

An extension of the ever-buzzing Atlantic Avenue station, it is conceived in the same warped and curving rust-colored Postmodern vocabulary as the stadium. To see any act of imagination in the design of MTA subway stations is always welcome, and the best thing about this new one, which opened on Wednesday, is the startlingly abrupt way in which it seems to emerge like an island out of the ground. Also admirable are the efforts to enliven the rear section of the above ground structure with a sloping wall of grasses, whose bright green plants play well against the ruddiness of the façade and the two-toned pavers, fashioned from brown stone, that cover the surrounding ground.

Along the sides, however, the structure has been clad in mirrored glass that does not improve matters, any more than the fact that there are already signs of decay in the metal of its façade. The real disappointment, however, comes when you descend into the station itself. Quite clearly, it never occurred to anyone that somebody might actually want to design the place. Rather it has been conceived in the dullest and most functional style imaginable, with standard issue turnstiles, and little more than some ill-conceived brown and white tiles braying their laughable insufficiency across the walls.

The designers should have taken a ride over to the South Ferry Station, which opened about two years ago, to see what can happen when people with real artistic vision undertake to design public spaces.

James Gardner is The Real Deal’s architecture critic.