New Barclays Center Design Eyes Atlantic Yards

Event: A Conversation with the Architects of the Barclays Center
Brooklyn Borough Hall, 09.14.09
Speakers: William Crockett, AIA, LEED AP — Director of Sports Architecture, Ellerbe Becket; Gregg Pasquarelli, AIA — Founding Partner, SHoP Architects
Moderator: Rick Bell, FAIA — AIANY Executive Director
Organizer: Empire State Development Corporation; Center for Architecture


Barclays Center.

©SHoP; detail elevations by Seong Kwon Architects

“Where do the things in dreams go? Do they pass to the dreams of others?” asked Rick Bell, FAIA, quoting from Pablo Neruda during a recent talk on the new design of Barclays Center. A bit like dreams, memories of the sports-and-entertainment arena’s previous, rejected designs hovered over the proceedings: Gehry Partners’ glassy, circular design, which got scrapped for a more economical (and bland) version by Ellerbe Becket. SHoP recently joined up with Ellerbe Becket to create a sexier new design, the subject of the evening’s talk. If all goes according to plan, Barclays Center will one day be home to the Nets basketball team, and the building will be a prominent part of developer Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards, a controversial mixed-use complex in Brooklyn.

Judging by the presentation by SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli, AIA, and William Crockett, AIA, LEED AP, of Ellerbe Becket, the new design couples visual flair with an attention to scale and a transparency designed to make the structure seem welcoming, not overbearing. The architects described a prominent entrance plaza at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues leading to a glassy entryway that allows views straight into the arena, including glimpses of the scoreboard and a sports practice court. A canopy overhead is intended as a “grand civic gesture onto the plaza,” Pasquarelli said, adding, “It has a large oculus in the middle of it so that light can penetrate through. It’s more than 30 feet in the air, and it becomes this kind of way of seeing the building as you approach it from the west.”

To break down its mass, the building is composed of three horizontal bands. (See “SHoP Architects Joins the Nets Design Team,” In The News, e-Oculus, 09.15.09.) An intricate steel latticework helps, too: it casts shadows during the day, making the building seem less bulky. By night, the latticework will be softly lit from inside, creating a distinctive pattern of glowing lights. (Attendees were able to check out the effect in a model.)

Some questions about the project remained unanswered. Eliciting grumbles from community activists who oppose Atlantic Yards, Bell chose not to allow questions pertaining to the process surrounding the complex, explaining that the session’s purpose was to focus purely on the new design. And while the architects explained many specifics of that design, just how the arena will be integrated with the complex’s future towers remains shrouded in mystery. During the Q&A, one audience member asked what would happen to the oculus if another building slated for that spot were constructed in the future. Pasquarelli replied that the whole canopy might be removed or extended, or perhaps new escalators or elevators could even go through the oculus. As time goes by, it will be interesting to see just how this project — and the opposition surrounding it — plays out.