« Court to hear yards case | Main | Happy Independence Day! »

July 4, 2009

In New York magazine, some (partly) misplaced regret for the lost Gehry design

Atlantic Yards Report

Norman Oder critiques a New York Magazine article The Unbuilding of Frank Gehry: Has New York lost its great chance with an architectural legend? Gehry speaks.

Longtime critics of Atlantic Yards know that the removal of architect Frank Gehry is part of a pattern of not-so-trustworthy behavior by developer Forest City Ratner (whose reps swore for months that Gehry was still the architect), but New York magazine architecture critic Justin Davidson, like some other architecture aficionados, treats it as the ultimate betrayal.

The idea that Atlantic Yards would have been Gehry's opportunity to create a new "urban archetype is disputed:

But for Gehry, Atlantic Yards represented an irresistible chance to do for an urban district what he had done for the museum and the concert hall: establish a new archetype.

I think Davidson grants Gehry a little too much credit here. The architect was spending most of his time on the arena, his first, and came up with the (much-praised by some) solution--given the enormous site constraints--of nestling the arena within four towers.

Gehry did not exactly walk around Prospect Heights--or talk to locals--to try to suss out a new urban archetype.

The New York Magazine article says that an opportunity for great architecture was missed when developer Bruce Ratner announced officially what many had know for a while: Frank Gehry was no longer on the proposed Atlantic Yards project. Oder has a different perspective on the timeline.

A few weeks after that conversation, Ratner scrapped six years’ worth of design work. Pleading financial straits, he fired Gehry from the whole project and replaced his arena design with a graceless Cow Palace knockoff by the journeyman stadium-builder Ellerbe Becket. To judge by early renderings, the new offering isn’t simply inferior; it’s insultingly bad. Yet Gehry has served Ratner well. His involvement helped strong-arm the city and the state into delivering tax breaks, permits, and the power to evict holdouts. It helped beat back opposition, secure $400 million in naming rights from Barclays, and win over the architectural press. Ratner didn’t just toss Gehry into the drink; he betrayed the city, blighted a neighborhood he promised to transform, validated his opponents, and blew a colossal opportunity to bring great architecture to a city that badly needs it.

Oh, come now. Wasn't the whole thing blown in September 2007 with the State Funding Agreement, which allowed Ratner six years (after the delivery of property by eminent domain) to build the arena without penalty, 12 years for Phase 1, and no timetable for Phase 2?

That agreement, which came to light in March 2008, meant that building four towers around the arena within a tight time frame was unlikely, and thus Gehry's design was unlikely. It also meant that blight--in the form of surface parking lots and/or cleared land--was likely to persist for decades.

Also noticed is the apparent lack of regret by Gehry in laying off half of his staff. This seems consistent with other difficult decisions from the past as noted in the film "Sketches of Frank Gehry".

In the film, Milton Wexler, Gehry’s longtime therapist, recounts how Gehry was in limbo with his wife, and advised him to make up his mind, to either commit to work it out or to leave immediately. Gehry instantly moved to a hotel. “I had two daughters and a wife,” he says with a mildly incredulous laugh, but without remorse.

link

Posted by steve at July 4, 2009 6:48 AM