|Top figure: My brother Stephen. Below him, George Willig|
I wrote about my brother and George Willig and Philippe Petit in an earlier Noticing New York article. I was also writing then about another Ratner-constructed building and was writing about the same thing I am going to write about here.
Background On Arena Architecture: The Steel Lattice Grid Added When Finalizing A Design
First, some background about the architecture of the Ratner/Prokhorov owned arena to which the name of the Barclays Bank has been affixed with that name of ill repute being affixed in turn to New York subway stations so as to amplify the advertising that is intended to improve the public’s associations with the “Barclays” name.
Without commenting upon the aesthetic value of what was actually achieved, it should be noted that the aesthetics of the arena are all achieved by something that was never meant to be in the first place, something that was added in and resorted to at the last minute, a latticework wreath of weathering steel panels, including a projecting “oculus,”to disguise the basic and standard design beneath. See the following Atlantic Yards Report's article from which the indented quotes below are extracted: Friday, December 28, 2012, In the WSJ: "Barclays Center is winning over Brooklyn" (but does it "work for the people closest to it"?).
From the Wall Street Journal’s annual architectural roundup written by Julia Lovine:
The 675,000-square-foot sports arena sits at the edge of a residential neighborhood. And it is as hulking and out of scale as feared, but locals have found it interesting enough architecturally to reconsider its potential. The architects animated a very basic arena form, covering it with rusted steel panels—thousands of them, each one slightly different in size—turning something ponderous, dynamic. In a bold gesture at street level, a swooping oculus projects out over the subway and commuter train stairs.From the comment of Atlantic Yard Report’s Norman Oder on the above Wal Street Journal article:
. . that "bold gesture at street level" was never meant to be. The arena plaza, and oculus, are the product of failing to build the massive office tower designed for that space. The arena surely looks less imposing, and more neighborhood- friendly, that way. But the office tower was key to the financial projections that made Atlantic Yards plausible.
. . . the huge dark cooperately logoed “Barclays” Center and its “oculus” loom over you. Like an oversized flat screen in a sports bar, the “oculus” perpetually reformulates moving images that show hypnotically distracting advertisements from all the corporations who have deemed it beneficial to associate themselves with Ratner’s scandalous doin’s in his ruin of Brooklyn.(See: Sunday, October 7, 2012, Will The “Daily News” Plaza at the “Barclays” (LIBOR) Center Be A Public Space For Free Speech?: Police Issue A Directive To The Contrary.)
The insistent flashing ads in the oculus, together with the arena’s general overbearingness in the space are, it’s worth remembering, financially juiced by the arena’s nonpayment of taxes. We, the public, pay the expenses the arena doesn't.
As Mr. Oder notes, whatever aesthetic success has been achieved with the oculus and the lattice steel wreath encompassing the oculus was all a hastily-added afterthought that was inconsistent with the original design and plan. The oculus is where, in the still-not-officially-disavowed original site plan design, an office building is supposed to stand. In fact, the original site plan design calling for a total of four buildings to surround the arena would leave very little of the lattice visible. (See image below from: Monday, September 21, 2009, A Stitch in Time: Post ESDC Meeting Ratner Releases Another (FIFTH!) New Set of Arena Plans.)
|Above, original site plan showing the two apertures where fragments of lattice could theoretically remain.|
|From 2008 Gowanus Lounge coverage of project slow down and delay|
|From Atlantic Yards Report coverage in turn covering the Times|
Other things have similarly made it seem as if the arena lattice was hastily conceived, irrespective of whether it has been rightfully or wrongly praised by a fawning press that is rarely critical of Ratner.
It may have come as a surprise to many that the “12,000 panels of a material called weathering steel” . . “bleeds bits of fiery color onto the surrounding area, especially in its early life.” (For more, including photos of the “rusty dripping” see: Friday, November 30, 2012, After pre-rusting the Barclays Center facade, the metal drips, after all.) In any event, the new sidewalks being stained, already full of unpromised cracks, are hardly pristine.
|Posterior protuberance the weekend of Jay-Z's opening concert|
Most recently, we have been greeted with the New Year's fresh news of a New York Times scoop: Back in August it was discovered that there was a problem with the 23,351 bolts fastening the steel plates to the arena structure. The fabricator had sent bolts that were half as strong as those that had been ordered. As a five-month replacement regimen was undertaken and ongoing, the news was apparently handled by Ratner and the professional firms working for his Forest City Ratner firm so that the information didn’t get around, not to the New York City Building Department nor passed along by the construction monitor reporting to arena’s bond holders about the status of their investment’s construction.
|Image, Chang W. Lee Photo, showing bolts from Times January 1 scoop article: Problem With Weak Bolts Has Complicated the Barclays Center’s Early Days|
As the Times defective-bolt-scoop article author Charles Bagli writes: “with innovation has also come headaches.” Bagli ends his Times article sounding a note of perhaps intentionally ironic hope:
As for the blossoms of metal staining the sidewalks surrounding the arena? Eventually the panels will stop rusting and workers will use power washers to remove all traces of metal from the sidewalks.I am not so certain this is true. Although Bagli in his article at one point describes the material of which the 12,000 panels are made as “pre-weathered steel” and although the Merritt & Harris construction monitoring reports that didn’t mention the defective bolts documents refer to “weathered panels” I believe the exact term for the material used is “weathering steel” which is to say that there is no past tense involved; while the weathering process may slow as it progresses it will never be finished. The Times reported in late August that to prevent the rusting from being worse upon initial installation the steel, before it arrived on site “spent about four months at an Indianapolis plant where they were put through more than a dozen wet-and-dry cycles a day” effectively amounting to about “six years of weathering”.
Other things that this Times article noted about the weathering steel: If water is allowed to pool anywhere holes can rust through the material like an old auto body and if mischievous passers-by throw magnets up onto the steel they stick (perhaps affecting the weathering patterns?)
Past As Prologue: Possible Ascension Of Another Problem With The Lattice Wreath
That being background (and mischief perhaps a good segue), we now get to the part of this post wherein I will talk about my brother Stephen, George Willig, Philippe Petit and connect them with another building built by Foerst City Ratner. It involves another problem with the lattice work facade that may not have been considered when its design solution was hastily resorted to.
I have been thinking about writing this article since the summer, long before the arena was completed or brought online. I held back because I didn’t want to get ahead of the story. Also there are times when, in writing about a story, you can unintentionally become part of it. You can provoke it into existence. For some months now it seemed to me that what was obvious to me must be obvious to everyone else and that if I just waited I would be writing about the story after it fully unfolded. I would have avoided provoking it to happen or, alternatively, provoking an inscrutable preemptive response on Ratner's part.
A number of years ago, in August of 2008 I wrote about redevelopment at Ground Zero, the former site of the World Trade Center. As part of that article I wrote about the relationship of human beings to buildings that dominate the environment, how the dominance of a building can create a corresponding human urge to conquer that dominating object, a sort of because-it’s-there exercise at attempting to cut a too big building back down to human size, restoring the balance of human relationship. (See: Tuesday, August 5, 2008, TWO, AND FRO?)
|Philippe Petit tight-rope walking between Trade Center Towers in video preview for "Man on Wire" documentary.|
|George Willig climbing World Trade Center Tower|
|Postcard from 1964 Worlds Fair showing Unisphere|
|French "Spiderman" Alain Robert climbing Times/Ratner building June 5, 2008 to call attention to global warming from YouTube Video of climb|
We often observe about warfare how humans preoccupy themselves with "fighting the last war." If there is architectural equivalent to this bromide it must not pertain to the Forest City Ratner firm because even if elements of Ratner’s Renzo Piano New York Times Building built in 2007 had to be dismantled because they were such an open invitation to urban climbers seeking to scale urban Everests and make statements, the “Barclays’ arena presents a conspicuous rerun of this problem.
It’s a veritable stairway to the stars, or at least the twinkling LED diodes of the oculus!
|The same view when arena was under construction, June 1st|
|Another easy climbing access point. On the day this photo was taken the Ratner organization was busy delivering press to the spot|
Seriously though: After Ratner's high-profile experience with the three urban climbers who were drawn to the Renzo Piano New York Times Building, wasn't this on the Ratner firm's checklist of stupid learn-from-experience mistakes to avoid? Or was Mr. Ratner in just that much of a desperate hurry to get his approvals and get started?