Monday, September 21, 2009

A Stitch in Time: Post ESDC Meeting Ratner Releases Another (FIFTH!) New Set of Arena Plans

(Above: The Newly released FIFTH set of designs for the Atlantic Yards arena which are notably remarkably like the THIRD set.)

What a difference just a matter of days can make! Just days after Forest City Ratner released renderings of the fourth version of its proposed Atlantic Yards arena, it has now released its fifth set of drawings of what the arena will look like. It is startlingly like the third version, the Ellerbe Becket “airplane hangar” design. The fifth version replaces the SHoP drawings and model that were masterfully furnished just days after conclusion of the public comment period and days before the Empire State Development Corporation’s meeting last Thursday where ESDC’s board granted Ratner permission to proceed with the arena plus a thirty-year monopoly on the adjoining acreage Ratner wants for whatever he eventually wants to do regarding the rest of the megadevelopment.

Less Literal Lateral on the Lattice

Thursday’s board meeting squared away, Ratner moved forward by surfacing the new drawings. Ratner’s spokesman, Joe DePlasco, explained that applying what he referred to as the concept of “value-accelo-engineering,” the new design eliminated all of the floating metal lattice surrounding the arena. He pointed out that this should please all the people calling for the project to proceed faster while at the same time it would save the developer money.
DePlasco was staying one a jump ahead of the news cycle. The Brooklyn Paper had just astutely pointed out in a featured front page article it published just before the designs changed again that the SHoP designed metal lattice for the arena would eventually need to be removed to accommodate other buildings promised in the master plan. The headline used for Friday’s print edition of the newspaper was “Rendered Useless? Architect: Arena will be altered for big towers.” The article began: “Enjoy the new renderings of the Barclays Center while you can —“ and explained how there were plans to tear down the rippling steel depicted surrounding the arena, including the “signature entrance way” which the last set of architects called a “grand urban gesture.” (See: Like the new Yards arena? That’s too bad, because it will change when the economy improves, By Gersh Kuntzman, September 15, 2009.)

Planned Nonobsolescence
(Above the only two apertures where fragments of lattice could theoretically remain.)

DePlasco explained that, prior to the fifth set of arena designs, the steel lattice was going to be removed on various sides of the arena, almost all around, for a total of four buildings on the arena’s 1.) west, 2.) northeast, 3.) southeast, and 4.) south sides, leaving only two small apertures between the buildings where potential remnants of the lattice could still cling (northwest and southwest) tucked in on either side of the gigantic building named “Building One.” Accordingly, he said, applying the principles of “value-accelo-engineering” it doesn’t make sense to build it at all. “Think of it this way,” he said, “we have accelerated the planned for demolition of the lattice which definitely puts us ahead and advances the cause. This is the ultimate in good planning and the essence of intelligent forethought.”

Community First

Mr. DePlasco also explained that the new approach would spare the surrounding community being subjected to a great deal of unnecessary construction. “You have no idea how sensitive Forest City Ratner is about its neighbors in the community. This will avoid our neighbors having to be inconvenienced by the construction of the lattice and then doubly inconvenienced by the demolition of the lattice. All of those especially loud and dusty operations involving street closings now become unnecessary,” Mr. DePlasco pointed out.

Signs of Promise

Mr. DePlasco said that he could not promise that the new approach would accelerate the developer’s provision of the “150-foot billboards on either side of the `Urban Room`” (see the Brooklyn Paper article) but said that this was indeed a possibility. “As you know,” he said, “earlier last week we said that animated, illuminated 15-story signs were not part of what was the current concept of the arena design, but the design now moving forward implementing the value-accelo-engineering definitely allows the signs to be part of the concept again and to be provided more swiftly.” “This is all within the ESDC design guidelines” Mr. DePlasco said, something he said he hoped everyone firmly understood.

Nine (200-Nine) on Delay

Surprised by the move, Gersh Kuntzman of the Brooklyn Paper asked Mr. DePlasco the obvious question for the next story Kuntzman has not yet had a chance to write (sometimes Forest City Ratner is moving so fast that not even Mr. Kuntzman or Mr. Norman Oder* can keep up). He asked what assurance there was that the new value-accelo-engineering approach wouldn’t simply result in a spare undecorated airplane hangar arena sitting at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush for decades. “That won’t be the case,” said Mr. DePlasco, “I think it goes without saying that Forest City Ratner is committed to building the entire project as soon as possible and without delay” adding “Forest City Ratner is an organization which should always be trusted under all circumstances.” Mr. DePlasco said that as additional evidence of Forest City Ratner’s good faith and real commitment to speeding up construction of the arena, Forest City Ratner was considering advancing its promised opening date for the arena to the 2009 date it had previously used.

(* See the footnote that appears at the end of this post.**)

Reflecting Onto the Fog

Mr. Kuntzman observed that this could just be an airplane hangar arena with no buildings around it, something he predicted the public would object to. Mr. DePlasco said that insistence the lattice be built if it was going to be torn down again would be unreasonable. It would just be project opponents calling for the arena to wear a “wreath of thorns.” He said that the developer was not prepared to be a martyr about such things. “This megadevelopment has never been about imposing obligations on the developer,” he emphasized, something he said he could have ESDC spokesman Warner Johnston confirm.

“Besides,” said Mr. DePlasco, “some of the most famous buildings in New York are nonexistent” pointing out that the since Bloomberg came into office two of the most famous nonexistent buildings in New York were the annual memorial lights for the missing World Trade Center towers where there had also been a lack of development. That’s something the Municipal Art Society promoted he explained and said that with the money Forest City Ratner would save by scrapping the wreath, it could do something similar at the Atlantic Yards site. Said Mr. DePlasco:
“There has been a lot of interest recently in what Neil de Mause calls `vaportecture,’ We have been checking this out and think we can easily do something of this sort using some theatrical fog making machines and then directing light into the air with special mirrors. It’s very economical. We cut way down on design costs and FCR already gets a volume discount on smoke and mirror equipment.”
Other Points of View?

For a moment DePlasco seemed almost contemplative before continuing. “Daniel Goldstein said at the ESDC meeting last week that if FCR could actually build vaportecture he might support its being built. If we could get Goldstein’s support for the project that would be huge!”

Contacted by Charles Bagli of the Times about the FCR smoke and mirrors vaportecture proposal, attorney and urban planner Michael D. D. White acknowledged that Forest City’s plan might well add “FRC’s buildings to the pantheon of well known nonexistent buildings” noting that “one of the best known nonexistent buildings in New York was the now demolished Pennsylvania Station.” “They decorate the new station with pictures the old Penn Station they tore down,” he said. Mr. White cautioned however that FCR’s nonexistent vaportecture buildings were never likely to become “nearly as famous” as the demolished Ward Bakery building which was now nonexistent on the same proposed Atlantic Yards project site just a few blocks away.

When Senator Velmanette Montgomery’s office was contacted to comment on DePlasco ‘s offer of vaportecture, spokesman Jim Vogel said that as he made clear at the ESDC meeting the previous week, “It is always a gas to `comment on gas’!”

Are we joking? Yes, of course. Or did you think we just wanted to prove that we could be just as creative as Forest City Ratner in making up stories and spinning positively for their megadevelopment? - - Except maybe we are not joking entirely. Sometimes when we joke we have a few serious points to make.-

- Verily, as was reported in the Brooklyn Paper, the steel the steel lattice IS being built (in theory) just to be torn down again. It would save the developer money never to build it and ESDC habitually accommodates virtually every request by the developer. Yes, the developer is truly only supplying PR nonexistent vaportecture architecture in lieu of designs for any the rest of the mega-project whose actual construction within the upcoming decades is entirely speculative. That’s all true. The fact of the matter is that all of what we have imagined above, even the return of the 15-story animated, illuminated billboards is permitted by the ESDC plan and design guidelines. So if you think there is something that would prevent it from actually happening . . . . Just think again.

(** Note: We have to write things like this in here just to make sure you know that we are really joking.)

* * * *

(Below: The current set of designs that include commented upon "vaportecture." For more on this see: Thursday, September 10, 2009, The Surrounding Light Smears Ratner’s Atlantic Yards Arena and Thursday, September 10, 2009, Really Now! The subject of Rendering the Atlantic Yards Arena Realistically Revisited.)

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