In typical Robert Moses fashion, when a 1961 urban renewal project added an ice skating rink to a blighted section of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, it came along with an imposing facility and a 250-car parking lot. The change took a chip out of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s diamond-shaped masterpiece, cutting off a lake at the southern end of the park from the broad pathway that winds around its perimeter.
A new $74 million project by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, called the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Center at Lakeside, strives to undo the damage of that redevelopment. Working with landscape architect and Prospect Park Alliance vice president Christian Zimmerman, the firm replaced the old ice-skating complex with two modern rinks, tucking them into a grassy, 26-acre landscape that reconnects the proximate section lakefront to the rest of the park. After funding hiccups and several delays, the public took to the ice for the first time on December 20.
The firm replaced the parking lot’s flat surface with a naturalistic topography that cradles the two open-air rinks. A berm rises from one side to conceal two pavilions for chilling equipment, skate rentals, concessions, lockers, and other support spaces—clad in granite, Heath tiles in the colors of the surrounding foliage, and glass for watching skaters. A rectangular green roof extends from just above the height of the berm, covering the larger, hockey-scaled rink—its ceiling is incised with squiggles that recall skates cutting across the ice—while a connected but unenclosed oval encourages more leisurely skating. In the summer, the larger surface will double as a roller rink, while the oval will become a fountain-soaked play area.
Both rinks have views to the lake, and once again, so does the main drive around the park. Williams and Tsien’s project goes a long way toward restoring Olmsted and Calvert Vaux 1860s vistas while adding an amenity befitting Brooklyn’s ongoing renaissance.
If you find yourself in New York City over the holidays, venture out on the ice.