New York City felt “baited-and-switched,” says Gregg Pasquarelli, the principal of SHoP Architects, explaining how his firm came to design Barclays Center, the 675,000-square-foot arena in Brooklyn, home to the Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets. The arena officially opens tonight with a Jay-Z (aka Hova) concert. The bait-and-switch occurred when Bruce Ratner, the developer of the arena, dangled a design by Frank Gehry, helping him win city approval for the project, then dropped Gehry after the financial meltdown of 2008. By spring of 2009, Ratner found himself with no design for the building, and a looming deadline: a tax law change that would have cost him hundreds of millions of dollars if the building wasn’t “in the ground” by the end of the year.
So Ratner turned to design-build firm Hunt Construction; Hunt suggested hiring Ellerbe Becket, architects of venues for nearly half of the thirty National Basketball Association teams. Ratner’s team began touring those arenas, looking for one they could reproduce in Brooklyn, sidestepping months or years of design work. They settled on the Conseco Fieldhouse (now Bankers Life Fieldhouse) in Indianapolis, which was completed in 1999, and began ordering the steel to build a version of it at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues. But the new designed betrayed its Indiana roots. “A colossal, spiritless box,” wrote New York Times critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, adding that the building “would fit more comfortably in a cornfield than at one of the busiest intersections of a vibrant metropolis.”