“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.” - Steve Jobs

When a great designer does the wrong good design

Right now in Brooklyn there is a battle being waged. The classic battler of progress vs. quality of life. Brooklyn is facing a huge renassaince. Almost every neighborhood has seen huge improvements from East New York to Bay Ridge. Brooklyn is now THE place to live in New York City and not one major capital plan was necessary to create that attraction.

But one real estate baron come basketball team owner got it in his head that he single-handedly can change Brooklyn forever. But at what cost. I moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan because I wanted to slow down. I had lived over 11 years in Manhattan (w/ a 2 year respite in the suburbs of San Francisco) and I have to say upon returning to the city, I was overwhelmed by the density of everything. Thus, I fled the throngs of Manhattan, to live in “brownstone Brooklyn”.

In my neighborhooed Ft. Greene, there is not a single building over 10 stories, and most like the one I’m in are 4 stories max. Ft. Greene has also resisted the temptations of gentrification very well. We are close enough to the Target, McDonalds and Starbucks that we don’t need one in our neighborhood, so we don’t even have a gap or fast food restaurant of any kind. We have boutiques, ethnic shops, and some of the most amazing restaurants.

While Ft. Greene in particular will not be directly impacted by what is being proposed …

map of proposed development

… the area that acts as the spoke between 4 great neighborhoods will forever be mutated. No longer can you simply cross the tracks and move from one brownstone neighborhood to another.

Just check out this design by legend, Frank Gehry:

model of Brooklyn proposa by Frank Gehry
Imagine a 60 story building now being placed between these great row house neighborhoods. A single building like this alone would add so much density and congestion to the area, but they want to do a host of buildings like theses.


The models are impressive, but b/c the area is just made to look flat and ugly in the model, the context of it all gets lost. Yes, the design is covering up a eye-sore in the center of Brooklyn, but at what price. Today you have an almost integrated neighborhood where people from the 4 neighborhoods can easily move from one to the other. Put these monstrosities there, and a new force will be reckoned with. A psychological barrier will now cause isolation where before there was a definite positive relationship.

I feel that in looking at this design, I do see a pattern of Mr. Gehry’s work. He does his buildings in isolation, or more exactly in contrast to the environment. In this example, “The Fred and Ginger Building” in Prague, it is definitely a case of creat curves like the Nuveau Romantic style all over the city, but it’s glass and concrete are in stark contrast to the neighboring buildings. The saving element of the building is that it is on an open corner, next to a waterway, which gives it further open space to play with so that the contrast created in style is tempered.


But in the proposal above, the stark contrast is doing more than playing with form and space, but it is also playing with culture. This level of contrasting use, is where the design falls apart compared to that of “Fred and Ginger”. Size, use, style, and density change all turn this great design into something quite disturbing. This is why I beg you if you live in New York City to do what you can to get the MTA to oppose the Ratner/Gehry proposal. Develop don’t Destroy Brooklyn is the primary organization leading the charge. There is a tag sale on July 23rd at 104 S. Oxford in Ft. Greene to help raise money for the continuing battle against this plan. I hope to see you there.

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  • http://givemeseltzer.com Barry

    Dave, I totally agree with you. The plans are for buildings too lage and threaten to become not an integral part of the community, connecting neighborhoods together, but an isolated community.

    However, I still have hope. Gearhy has stated, I believe, that he wants to build something more integrated this time. And isn’t the majority of the space ther ghostly, vast empty-space created by the LIRR yards – do people really cross that space to move between communities (I ask seriously, as when I once walked passed it it looked compltely desolate)?

    Keep up the good fight!


  • Dave

    The arena and the current plan is going to close the 5th Ave. crossing and the 6th Ave crossings which are quite easy and useful. Residents go to 5th Ave. all the time especially as that part of the Slope has really matured. So while there is this ghastly railroad mess, the 5th Ave. crossing is before the tracks, and still VERY useful.

  • http://givemeseltzer.com Barry

    Ah, good to know.

  • 4

    “He does his buildings in isolation, or more exactly in contrast to the environment.”

    You are right to correct yourself. While I completely agree that this proposal is distructively dense, I take you to task for sloppy critique. “in context” in architectural critique has long (certainly since the rise of “post-modern” architectural design manifesto) meant “mimic,” “copy,” “follow,” or to refer uncritically. There is absolutely NO inherent aesthetic demerit to architecture that responds to other architecture with contrast, even rejection. To confuse the issues of relative density and relative visual similarity is to reason sloppily. Sloppy reasoning will get you nowhere with reasonable opponents.
    (And casts doubt on your design critique generally, I’d say.)


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