A Gehry Grows in Brooklyn

The unveiling of a new design for the 22-acre Atlantic Yards site marks the latest step for the controversial project

On May 11, Frank Gehry, FAIA, unveiled new models for his 22-acre Atlantic Yards development in downtown Brooklyn. He says the latest work is more sympathetic to the scale and character of the residential area that the project borders. Some of the buildings are shorter and less bulky than those that were previously presented. Many of them will have glass walls at street level, and others will not be built so closely together. Most of the buildings will be clad either in metal, glass, or brick, and their designs are generally much less unorthodox than the models presented last July. For instance many buildings that had been tilting in various directions in the prior models are now standing straight up.

Making the project fit into the neighborhood will certainly be a challenge. The $3.5 billion project, which would be located at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, would be the largest project in the history of the borough. It would include about 600,000 square feet of office space; 6.79 million square feet of residential space; 850,000 square feet of sports and entertainment area, which would be used as a new arena for the New Jersey Nets. There would also be 247,000 square feet of retail, and seven acres of open space. The plan calls for four office towers of 35 to 60 stories, located near downtown Brooklyn's commercial corridor.

"It's possible to make this project fit into the area, to open it to more light and air," says Jim Stuckey, president of Atlantic Yards Development Group. He says the arena will be fronted on most sides by residential buildings, helping it blend into the area. Its glass portions will be open to the street, showing off the building's interior. While huge buildings, like the 620-foot Miss Brooklyn Tower and the arena itself, highlight the project the majority of structures will be low-rise brick residential buildings. Stuckey says the materials of many of the projects are undecided, but that some would be more iconic than others.

"If we had all iconic buildings this would be just a jumble," he says.

The eastern edge of the site, which creeps into the more residential, low-density neighborhood of Prospect Heights, would form a superblock, with seven residential buildings of 20 to 40 stories. Gehry's design includes 4,500 rental units and 1,500 market-rate condos.

Neighbors still complain that the project's developers, Forest City Ratner, have not solicited enough public input for the plan, which will likely utilize eminent domain to condemn at least six buildings. Others complain that the giant project will never fit into the neighborhood. In a press release, the Brooklyn group Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn said, "The new design unveiled by Gehry and Ratner today is 16 skyscrapers worth of window-dressing. It puts a Gehry sheen on top of repudiated 1960's style urban renewal."

But Stuckey says his team has already met with many local groups. Public review of the project is now scheduled for the end of June, and completion of an environmental impact statement is set for the end of July, he says. He adds that the team has now procured 90 percent of the land it needs for the project, and hopes it will not have to resort to eminent domain to get the rest.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.