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Brooklyn's Architectural Moment

By Fred A. Bernstein
June 20, 2014
Photo © Architectural Record
Modular housing has already obscured most of the east facade of Barclays Center, long before the building has reached its full height.

Until five years ago, the stretch of Flatbush Avenue between the Manhattan Bridge and Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn was an architectural wasteland. The strip started coming to life with a small project (WXY’s skillful security booths for the MetroTech center), then with a very big one—the Toren, an SOM-designed condo tower with an unusual, dimpled-metal façade.

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Next up was the SHoP-designed Barclays Center, where Mayor Bill de Blasio hopes the Democratic Party will hold its convention in 2016. Oddly, SHoP is in the process of hiding Barclays’s popular Cor-ten facades behind apartment towers; the first of the planned buildings, made of units prefabricated at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, already obscures the arena’s east elevation.

But most of the news for Flatbush Avenue ranges from good to great. WORKac, the partnership of Dan Wood and Amale Andraos, has designed a new home for the Eyebeam Cultural Center, a new-media arts organization, on the first two floors of an apartment building by Bernheimer Architecture and Dattner Architects. Meanwhile, Enrique Norten is getting to revisit the site for which he first proposed a visual and performing arts library a decade ago; that design was widely praised but was abandoned for lack of funding.

Now work has begun on a much larger building by Norten for the same site: a 32-story apartment tower with room for several arts organizations—and a much smaller public library—at its base. Work has also begun on another 32-story tower, this one by Thomas Leeser, with a fractured façade that makes it surprisingly edgy (especially since it will house a Marriott-owned hotel). Leeser has said that he wanted the building to be slick but not perfect, because Brooklyn isn’t perfect. The developer of the building is best known for the Richard Meier apartment building at Grand Army Plaza, which was also considered risky when it was built.

Need more proof that Brooklyn, and particularly the Flatbush Avenue corridor, is having its architectural moment? When the Municipal Art Society announced the winners of its annual MASterworks Awards, in categories like “best restoration” and “best new urban amenity,” seven of the nine were in Brooklyn, and none were in Manhattan. One of the winners, for “best neighborhood catalyst,” is BRIC Arts Media House & Urban Glass, a 61,000-square-foot cultural facility in a former theater. Designed by Leeser for a site just north of Flatbush Avenue, it opened last year in the BAM Cultural District, named for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which also contains Beyer Blinder Belle’s Mark Morris Dance Center and two new theaters by Hugh Hardy’s H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. The landscape architect Susannah Drake, one of the judges for the MASterworks Awards, said, “Brooklyn is clearly a hub of quality design thinking. We didn't think about geography; we just chose the best projects.”



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