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Barclays Center: The Deep Roots Beneath Brooklyn’s Game-Changing Arena

There are many big-name performers and fast-paced sporting events that take place at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the multi-purpose arena at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues that opened September 2012. Yet the most noteworthy element of this destination isn’t the star power its stadium commands, or even the beauty and functionality of the massive LEED-approved structure designed by SHoP Architects. It’s simply the fact that Barclays Center has done what its detractors swore could not be done: inserted itself into this neighborhood without snarling traffic or disrupting the lifestyles of local residents, providing new energy and life with its programming while working with the existing virtues of this prime location.

On 11.25.13, the creative forces behind Barclays Center gathered at the Center for Architecture for “Barclays Center: Integrating Transportation into an Urban Area.” They spoke to a packed house about the challenges of taking on this ambitious project, and how they were able to effectively utilize public transportation to achieve their goals. Jane Marshall of Forest City Ratner, the developer of the project, was on hand to speak from the client’s perspective. Christopher Sharples, AIA, of SHoP Architects, spoke to the architectural underpinnings of the site and the “civic gesture” the structure was intended to be. “We were tasked with making something iconic; making a connection between the world below and above,” Sharples said. “This is a big-scale sports facility dropped in the middle of Brooklyn. How were we to create scaled intimacy? Through materials and by tapping into the street life of Brooklyn. There’s a great oculus inside, visible as you come out of the subway at the level of the main concourse. One couldn’t ask for a better relationship between mass transit and a civic sporting venue.”

Susan Walter, PE, of Stantec, shared the extensive infrastructure challenges of Barclays – including the tasks of mapping out mazes of track and keeping service uninterrupted on the interconnecting subway lines of the Atlantic Terminal. “We had to condemn Fifth Avenue and Pacific Street, remove utilities, install a new sewer system, and put in a sewer easement at the ‘Tip’ [where Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues converge],” she said. “There was a very complex maze of existing infrastructure to be rebuilt.”

Samuel I. Schwartz, PE, president of Sam Schwartz Engineering, provided fascinating metrics that showed just how effective the team has been at keeping drivers to a minimum and convincing attendees to take public transportation. “150 trains stop within blocks of Barclays Center between 7 and 8 pm,” Schwartz noted. “There were worries that gridlock would strangle Atlantic Avenue, and the client said, ‘Make this thing work.’ We had to give people the opportunity to arrive in ways other than by car. Now, only a quarter of Barclays guests arrive by car.” Given the bumper-to-bumper headaches associated with stadiums such as Shea and the Meadowlands, this is no small accomplishment. Barclays Center is an example of audacious optimism and collaboration, built on the bedrock of strong research and meticulous planning. “The underpinnings must be done right,” Sharples said. “The transit experience is so important.”

Andrew Stone is a Brooklyn-based author and editor who covers the worlds of design, dining, fitness, fashion, and culture. His weekly column for Interiordesign.net allows him to interface with the world’s top architects, interior designers, and artisans–whom he considers to be the smartest people on earth.

Event: Barclays Center: Integrating Transportation into an Urban Arena
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.25.13
Speakers: Christopher Sharples, AIA, Principal, SHoP Architects; Susan Walter, PE, Principal, Stantec; Samuel I. Schwartz, PE, President, Sam Schwartz Engineering
Organizers: AIANY Transportation and Infrastructure Committee