Beauty and the Behemoth: SHoP deploys digital technology and imaginative design to give Brooklyn's Barclays Center unexpected civic presence.
Architects & Firms
Brooklyn, New York
The gargantuan structure sits just beyond several neighborhoods of quaint brownstone rowhouses characteristic of this New York City borough. But Barclays Center, the 18,000-seat multipurpose arena in Brooklyn, occupies its own space on a wedge-shaped piece of land defined by the intersection of two traffic-clogged commercial arteries. The 675,000-square-foot building's facade is made up of 12,000 pre-weathered (intentionally rusted) steel panels that wind around the building like scales on a giant, but intriguing, reptile. The panels, no two of which are the same, swoop up and down and surround a canopy that hovers 30 feet above an entry plaza. At the center of this 80-foot-long cantilevered awning is an irregularly shaped oculus incorporating 3,000 square feet of digital signage and serving as the arena's marquee.
Barclays, with its brawny-yet-elegant skin designed by SHoP Architects, serves as home court for the NBA's Nets and opened with a concert in late September by rapper Jay-Z (who is part owner of the basketball team). The building is the first piece of the controversial $4.9 billion plan by Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) to redevelop Atlantic Yards—22 acres that straddle 11 subway lines and a commuter railroad. The development, which has been long delayed by community opposition and the recession, calls for a 16-tower, mixed-use complex, including 6 million square feet of residential space. Three of these towers will share Barclays' trapezoidal site, and in renderings appear almost grafted onto the arena's base. The first one, which SHoP designed, is slated to start construction later this month.
SHoP's involvement with Atlantic Yards began in July 2009 when FCRC asked the firm to cloak a utilitarian scheme for the arena by sports-facilities specialist Ellerbe Becket. Now part of AECOM, Ellerbe Becket had in turn been hired six months earlier by the project's design-builder, Hunt Construction Group, after a design by Frank Gehry was scrapped as too costly. SHoP's charge was to reinvent the arena's enclosure, adding pizzazz without changing its already fixed “performance envelope,” says Christopher Sharples, a SHoP principal.
Ellerbe Becket's 1999 Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis provided the inspiration for the layout: FCRC's CEO, Bruce Ratner, had visited Conseco (since renamed Bankers Life Fieldhouse) and reportedly asked that it be re-created in Brooklyn. Although an exact facsimile was impractical, the Brooklyn arena does borrow some of the older facility's best features, says Stephen Duethman, AECOM's project manager. He points to the raked seating, with an upper bowl sloped 36 degrees, intended to make fans feel as though they are right on top of the action. The sightlines are excellent, even from the last row of seats, which are about 160 feet from the court's sidelines. The squeak of players' shoes on the glossy herringbone floor is audible almost everywhere in the seating bowl, which makes the game seem even closer.
The layout of Barclays has other features to recommend it, including framed views from the entry lobby, the concourses, and some of the bars and concessions into the stadium bowl. Glazing on street level and on the structure's upper levels, between the sinuous bands of steel, allows a visual connection to the surrounding urban context.
The interior finishes, which were part of SHoP's contract, are less successful than the spatial configuration or the powerful facade. In the concourses, the gray terrazzo floors, the black paint of the metal deck supporting the structure above, and the suspended linear lighting fixtures create a cold and gloomy feeling. Even the vendors' signage—a typical source of lively cacophony in sports venues—consists of block letters illuminated from behind only in white light.
If the building's inside is dreary, the extroverted exterior more than compensates. The facade's 12,000 panels of A588 steel (an alloy that does not need to be painted and forms its own corrosion-retarding layer) make up 950 “mega-panels,” 5 feet wide and between 10 and 40 feet tall. These larger assemblies were transported to the site as a unitized system, including their supporting steel latticework, which varies from 18 inches to 5 feet deep, and a curtain wall of aluminum panels and insulated glazing units.
SHoP relied heavily on digital tools for the skin's design and fabrication, first using the software Rhinoceros to establish the surface geometry and then CATIA to further develop the form. Working with the firm's affiliate, SHoP Construction, the architects virtually “unfolded” the 12,000 individual panels and exported them to another program that “nested,” or placed, them on 59¼-inch-wide, 3/16-inch-thick steel sheets in a way that would optimize yield. The resulting digital-fabrication model included highly detailed information, such as panel weight, bending radii, and the design of the attachments to the underlying structure. The model even includes information about temporary structural supports needed during shipping of the mega-panels.
To produce the patina, the fabricator subjected the CNC-cut and machine-bent panels to a simulated weathering process by misting them with water. The panels were suspended from a conveyor belt, and each was exposed to 12 to 16 wetting-and-drying cycles per day for three and a half months.
The result is a rich coating of rust—one that makes the arena seem surprisingly in sync with the borough's industrial heritage, as though it could already be 100 years old. But even if Barclays feels as though it belongs on its site, like an architectural relic, it can't be declared a civic triumph just yet, since it is only the first component of the much larger project now expected to take 25 years to realize. Not until a few of the planned 14 residential towers are built, including some of the promised 2,250 units of affordable rental housing, and at least a few of the anticipated eight acres of public space are completed, will anyone be able to determine if Atlantic Yards, with the arena as its linchpin, will add to or detract from the streetscape of Brooklyn.
Completion Date: September 2012
Gross square footage: 675,000
Total cost: $1 billion
11 Park Place, Penthouse
New York, NY 10007
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