Monday, May 22, 2006
We hold these truths to be self-evident
FRANK GEHRY''s work is best when it is a single object that sits in contrast with its surroundings. To wit: his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain is a metal building on a prominent site in a traditional masonry city. Its form contrasts with everything around it. Its shiny color contrasts with everything around it. A modern jewel in a traditional setting, it is a beautiful, well-loved object.
Gehry's Disney Hall is just as interesting an object, but it sits on a too-wide street with empty lots and boring, late twentieth century buildings. In this setting, it comes off as less special. So does Gehry's Stata Center at MIT, in a section of Cambridge recently redeveloped.
Gehry's Performing Arts Center at Bard College is another step down from the Guggenheim. In the middle of open field ringed by lovely old trees, it refuses to engage the surrounding nature and in person comes off as silly and overwrought.
And now we come to what will probably be Gehry's worst work, the proposed Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. Yes, it sits in a traditional city fabric, but it is an enormous project that spills out from its site to wipe out blocks of existing fabric and tower over the neighbors. There is so much of the mega-project that it is its own context. And frankly, given that situation, Gehry doesn't seem to know what to do.
It is an axiom of design that restraints bring out creativity and produce the best result. Michelangelo's Campidoglio in Rome is often used as an example of this principle: given two existing buildings to work with in creating a plaza, Michelangelo used the odd angle between the two to create one of the most beautiful piazzas in Rome. In Brooklyn, Gehry and the developer Forest City Ratner are simply bulldozing too much of what's already there.
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Gehry not only ignores or works against his building's context he manages to dismiss this new century's concerns regarding security and oil dependency.
The Atlantic Yards project sits at the site of a thwarted Terrorist suicide attack at NYC's third largest transportation hub.... So what does Gehry do, he decides to build right up to the street and then clad the lower floors of his main towers and arena with glass... while leaving an open center for a truck bomb enter to maximize the damage.
Of course if the entrances are defended then Gehry's two superblocks are turned into a singe 21 acre super fortress. Forget gated communities, Gehry's going for broke.
And if Insurance Companies decide that this vunerable project exposes them to unacceptable risk they can do what Allstate has done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina... reduce their risk by reducing their homeowners policy market share in Brooklyn, or raise their premiums. So this is how Gehry the good neighbor brings affordable housing to the borough.
Then having never shown any particular interest in Green Buildings Gehry's towers will block the sun from the surrounding communities that have maintained the 19th century human scaled, open sky chacteristics that define this area as Brownstone Brooklyn. So for the next 30 - 60 years all those 1000's of taxpaying properties will be paying for the government subsidies used to encourage solar technologies that they themselves will be denied by this overwhelmingly scaled private development.
Posted by: alan rosner at Jun 4, 2006 10:31:22 AM