Monday, September 14, 2009

SHoPing around: "Where'd we leave our ethics?"


If someone kept hitting you in the face, you wouldn't just stand there and take it. Right?


Okay. Then why is Brooklyn taking it on the chin time and again from Bruce Ratner?

The latest palooka jabs come via the Atlantic Yards arena's new designs. Ratner's newest "make me look credible" dupes are the boutique architecture firm (translation: designing for buildings you and I will never see the inside of) SHoP. The spelling alone tells you they're way more edgy and smart than you, dude.

Here's what they came up with:

...complete with the annoying, self-absorbed architectspeak that spilled out alongside the drawings. We'll spare you the myriad pretentiousness. A little dab'll do you with this stuff:

The building consists of three separate but woven bands. The first engages the ground where the weathered steel exterior rises and lowers to create a sense of visual transparency, transitioning into a grand civic gesture the cantilevers out into a spectacular canopy at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.

What, nothing about SHoP's designs curing AIDS and getting pigs'a'flyin'? How genuine and low-key.

It gets worse. SHoP's Gregg Pasquarelli talks about his tasteless partnership with Bruce Ratner in a Q&A with the New York Observer.
The folded arms intersect with the surrounding community in a laticework of form, function and grand civic integrationary protoformism

* * * * * * * *

Pasquarelli: "I like Bruce. He’s very intense. He’s very smart, and he’s dealing with a lot of things at one time, but I know his heart is really in making a fabulous design."

His heart is in beating back community opposition, steamrolling residents, gag orders on people he does business with, filching $726 million in public money for the Atlantic Yards project, abusing eminent domain, exploiting peoples' fears about affordable housing and jobs, and distoring Brooklyn's past and future as a way to do business.

Fabulous designs? Only as a residule effect...the moldy, collapsed cherry sliding off the top of a melted sundae no one wants anymore.

Pasquarelli, on the basic task given SHoP by Ratner: "So where the steel was set—we didn’t want to start redesigning all the steel, so take the steel where it is, and just make some really precise small changes and see what you can do to push the building into the next realm of architecture."

In other words, this is the same building as the universally-panned "airplane hangar" offered by Ellerbe Beckett a few months ago. Some in the media ( are taking this as a breathtakingly wonderful new design. It's not. It is, as DDDB's Daniel Goldstein put it, "lipstick on a corrupt pig, window-dressing on a boondoggle.”

Pasquarelli, on signing on to a controversial project: "We gave serious consideration as to whether we wanted to do it."

Yeah, not so much. If you had, you would've said "no." SHoP is a hot firm in architectural circles. Whatever the cost of the chaos and hits to SHoP's reputation (see Gehry, Frank, Atlantic Yards, face, egg-on), Ratner was able to pay it. Which, by the way, proves again that Ratner can throw money around when he wants, then claim poverty when he needs.

SHoP has become part of the problem, checking their community ethics at the bank-vault door.

Pasquarelli, continuing his rationale for taking the job: "And I think the thing that convinced us was, after speaking with Bruce, we were convinced he really wanted to make a great building."

Gawd, you guys are simps. Or do you just like that cozy feeling of stumbling through life with blinders on. Ratner is using SHoP the same way he used Frank Gehry -- to gain some credible traction for the Atlantic Yards project. Ratner's track record is clear and predictable -- horrible, crass junk architecture when there's no opposition, and promises of great civic landmarkable beauty when hackles are raised. Ratner's been buildling big edifices for decades, devoid of humanity and beauty. Only when the wagons need circling, and mallchitecture won't do, does he pluck a Gehry, SHoP or Renzo off the shelf.

For all of SHoP's tender musings on community, form and the integration of the two, they've hitched their trendy little wagon to a corporation, Forest City Ratner, that if you believe SHoP's p.r., is the polar opposite of everything they stand for. For public consumption, at least.

They say lawyers make the best liars because it's part of the job. In New York, the same can be said for architechts. At least those working for Bruce Ratner.

Pasquarelli, completing his self-concious justification for taking the job: "And even knowing that the project was going to have its critics no matter what we designed, we felt like it’s our role as New Yorkers to try to make it as good as we could."

No, Gregg, your role as New Yorkers is to think of New York, not yourselves, your employer and his shareholders. New York is hurting right now. The economy blows. Bloomberg, the master capitalist, has failed at manuevering the city through the Free Market Rapids -- instead, plowing his energy and the city's finances into stadiums for the Mets, Yankees and Nets instead of the schools, low-income housing and infrastructure.

You're aiding and abetting a project that will harm, not hurt, New York City. You like to use the word "protoform," the architecht's edgy way of saying "the original design." Ratner's Atlantic Yards is a 21st-century protoform for abusing the people of this city.

You should think about revisiting what your "role as New Yorkers" is.

Pasquarelli, on the superblock nature of the Atlantic Yards project: "Over a site that has that much transportation infrastructure, I think it’s the only ethical, rational, sustainable thing to do to put density, and sometimes density requires some superblocks."

The only "ethical" thing to do is build an urban model that has been dismissed as an outmoded 1960s model of warehousing people in often dehumanizing conditions? I bet ol' Gregg and his SHoP cohorts dont' live in particularly "dense" housing tracts.

"That much transportation infrastructure" shows how little time SHoP's spent in that part of Brooklyn. The Atlantic/Pacific Street station is already at peak capacity, long past a massive rehab project without any plans to accomodate Ratner's sixteen-skyscraper superblock.

And those are the lowlights of the . Pasquarelli also went on to criticize "zoning spread" for limiting his creativity. For a guy this modern, young and edgy, he sure sounds like Ratner -- old, cantankerous, selfish -- a steamroller who won't listen to anyone not squarely in his corner.

Come to think of it, with a world view like that, SHoP and Ratner are made for each other.

* * * * * * * *

Many have made "separated at birth" comparisons to SHoP's new Atlantic Yards arena designs.

Us too:
the George Foreman Grill Mask
a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica
hip-hop baseball cap style
bike helmet architecture
a Cylon raider from the original Battlestar Galactica show
a baleen whale

...and finally, a correction to SHoPs idealistic, mindless traffic'll-just-zoom-on-by" rendering:

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

not exactly the Bedford Falls Building and Loan

You remember Barclays Bank, right? It's the British banking colossus that's giving Bruce Ratner an estimated $400 million for naming-rights to Ratner's increasingly unlikely Nets basketball arena in Brooklyn.

No? Maybe this will refresh you: Barclays was a.profiteer off the slave trade between Africa and the New World...a collaborator with the Nazis in freezing French Jews' bank accounts during World War II...a fiscal enabler of the South African apartheid regime... a bankroller of the Mugabe government and the recent Congolese civil war...a sponsor of England's soccer Premier League and of last weekend's PGA tournamet at Liberty National Golf Club in New Albert-Speer-looking blue war-eagle logo?

Right. That Barclays Bank.
At Barclays, it's hard to run out of ways to say "colonial," "royal," "totalitarian" and "world-domineering"

Barclays president Bob Diamond told the Newark Star Ledger's Steve Politi that they're still supporting Ratner's boondoggle, though with some regrets.

What's that? Regrets? Really?! Regrets that the neighboring communities have been abused repeatedly by Ratner, government officials and the process? About Ratner's constiant exploitation of peoples' fears over jobs and affordable housing by issuing broken promises about both? About a potential $2 billion in public money that would float Ratner's condo skyscrapers? About the eminent-domain abuse? About the dagger that Atlantic Yards has left in Brooklyn's chest from nearly six years of repeated stabbings?

"It was disappointing. We loved the iconic Frank Gehry building," Diamond rued.

Well, the shepherd's pie doesn't fall far from the slavery Apartheid Nazi Mugabe Congo tree.

Elsewhere in Politi's piece, Diamond repeated carefully-parsed talking points: Ratner's the man, the recession has been tough on poor Bruce, Big Evil Community Opposition has slowed the project.

There were, however, a couple of newsworthy and cringeworthy sentiments.

Diamond let slip that Barclays has seen the newly-revised designs for Ratner's arena. Yes, the designs that aren't supposed to exist and can't be made available for public scrutiny before the state agency overseeing the project votes to re-affirm it. Wacky Barclays, letting the cat out of the knickers, or torch or wireless or lift or jumper or whatever mistakenly-spilled beans are called in Merry Olde.
Barclays' Bob Diamond, with his secret formula for rescuing Brooklyn's destitute...

Then there was this from Diamond: "The original intent...was branding. We wanted to continue to enhance the brand of Barclays and do something in New York, where the majority of our clients are. There were many opportunities when it came to naming rights, and what really tripped our trigger on this one was the recovery of Brooklyn and a community that was really quite poor. It not only fit our need to brand, but it fit the fact that we like to give back to the community."
  • The "recovery of Brooklyn"? When was the last time Bob Diamond set foot in Brooklyn? During the '77 Blackout? Brooklyn's been doing fine all by our lonesome, clawing back one block, one small business, one family at a time, without Ratner's help, never mind Barclays'. (And if Diamond says "hey, I live in Brooklyn," then those blinders he's wearing must be way too tight.)
  • "The original intent was branding" Well goodness, all this time we thought it was Jobs, Hoops and Housing. Glad this has all been about flying that blue eagle in neon over the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic.
  • "tripped our trigger" The shepherd's pie falls even closer to the tree...
  • "a community that was really quite poor" What community are you talking about, Bob? The Black community? The public-housing community? The immigrant community? Any community that stands between you and Barclays' exciting new branding offensive?
  • "It fit the fact that we like to give back to the community" If Barclays hasn't actually been here before (outside of those Middle Passage profit margins in the 17th century), to whom are you giving back? Nothing a like a bank that prides itself on big ol' helpings of warm and fuzzy paternalism.[Picture+3.png]
Brooklyn, 2009, seen through the eyes of Bob Diamond

Barclays hasn't really learned a lot since their last brush with Brooklyn's varied neighborhoods. A few years ago, when news of the naming-rights deal broke, news outlets, politicians, community activists and bloggers picked up on Barclays' notorious and unsavory past. Instead of waiting for Brooklyn to roll out the Welcome Wagon, Barclays opted for one of their own, sending out threatening cease-and-desist letters to everyone who reported, opined or even mentioned the reports and opinions about the slave-trade stuff. I still have mine. It's very official, and hamfistedly meant to be ooooh, so scary and intimidating. The letters all but said 'Ello...we're new to Brooklyn. Would you be a good sport and stand still so we may club you with a mace?

If Ratner succeeds and some variation of the ever-changing/never-improving Atlantic Yards superblock gets built, perhaps you'll be able to glimpse all the poor Brooklynites who've been rescued by Barclays Bank. You'll see them beaming in the soothing blue glow of the friendly Barclays eagle, flapping its benevolent wings and shielding all of Brooklyn from the greatest of threats...people paying attention and not believing the hype.