Developer Bruce Ratner confirmed today that his company had hired SHoP Architects to co-design the arena at Atlantic Yards, after having faced withering criticism when Gehry Partners was booted as the project’s design architect earlier this year.
SHoP’s entry into the tangled effort to reinvent Brooklyn’s transportation hub as a mixed-use neighborhood marks a late-breaking bid to salvage the arena scheme—the only part of Atlantic Yards with both a sponsor and a lender—with an architect known for both serious design chops and a flair for local politics. SHoP will work with Gehry’s initial replacement, Ellerbe Becket, which drew howls from critics when its hangar-like arena renderings surfaced in June, and struck some observers as the final move in a game of bait-and-switch at the long-troubled project.
In a statement, firm principal Gregg Pasquarelli said that the new design would better knit the arena into the urban fabric, helping quell concerns that its outsize scale and dull street frontage would deaden the neighborhood. “The design of an arena in an urban context requires a critical balance between an iconic form and the street,” Pasquarelli said. “It must be legible at multiple scales—on the skyline, from five blocks away, from the plaza and while touching the door.”
This sounds similar to the strategy that Pasquarelli professed for a tower at South Street Seaport, another project that locals deemed out of scale, and one that has since stalled in the troubled economy. SHoP’s work designing that project and Manhattan’s East River Esplanade has given the firm credibility with public officials and fluency with the city’s public review process, though the Seaport designs drew fire from preservationists and never cleared the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The arena design itself shows a box within in a weathered-steel wrapper, swooping out over a public plaza on Atlantic Avenue. The new designs are sleeker than Kansas City–based Ellerbe Becket’s earlier versions, using the steel bands and voids to allow for visual transparency. “Views and physical access both into and out of the arena will be plentiful, easy and accommodating and thus ensuring a strong connection to the surrounding urban environment,” Pasquarelli said, adding that spaces are deployed to provide activities each day of the year, regardless of whether a major event takes place.
Without financing for the overall development, though, it remains to be seen whether even the diplomatic SHoP can rescue Atlantic Yards. “The project is still a phantom, with no plans whatsoever for anything besides the money-losing arena,” said Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and a party in a lawsuit to block Atlantic Yards. Good neighbor or no, Ratner still insists the arena will be open for the NBA’s Nets by the 2011-2012 season.