Brooklyn, New York


In his final days of office last year, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut the ribbon on the Samuel J. and Ethel LeFrak Center, a Tod Williams Billie Tsien–designed skating facility in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Standing nearby, the architects waited for a crowd of invited children to dash onto the ice, but when the rink's gate finally opened, “You saw one little kid creeping out slowly, holding like mad to the edge of the wall, and then the next one and the next one,” remembers Tsien. “It was like a line of little ants.”

Since those first hesitant kids, skaters of all ages have warmed to the ice, with visitors waiting in long lines to buy tickets. The center's two rinks, along with the restoration of the adjacent landscape, are part of Lakeside, an ambitious $74 million project to restore and reinvigorate 26 acres of the sprawling and beloved park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 19th century.

They originally planned the site to stage a formal moment, as they famously did by the water's-edge at Bethesda Terrace in Manhattan's Central Park. A carriage concourse terminated near the shore of Prospect Park's lake, where visitors could listen to performances by musicians stationed across a small channel on Music Island. In a 1961 overhaul, the channel was filled in to make way for a shedlike ice-skating facility and—in typical Robert Moses–era fashion—a parking lot replaced the carriageway.

Williams and Tsien worked with landscape architect Christian Zimmerman, vice president of capital and landscape management for the nonprofit Prospect Park Alliance (PPA), to restore if not replicate Olmsted and Vaux's vision, reviving the green space while retaining the site's role as a gathering place. The center's two rinks, an uncovered ellipse and a canopied hockey rink, are both open for public skating in the winter, and the hockey rink will host roller-skating in the summer, filling a void left by the closure of the Empire Roller Skating Center, an institution in the nearby Crown Heights neighborhood. (The new plan even revives Music Island—but replaces the once awkwardly marooned musicians with a wildlife habitat.) “I feel that this is the most important piece we've ever done, because it's the most public,” says Tsien. “It's the one that everybody can go to.”

Only visitors who want to skate need to pay; anyone else may walk freely through the facility, which has no fences (it has nearly doubled the number of public restrooms in the park). The overall project was realized through a public-private partnership between the PPA and the New York City Parks Department that persevered through years of bureaucratic snags and financial challenges.

When Lakeside opened in December, the public was introduced to two single-story rectangular buildings topped by roof terraces that bound the rinks in an L-shaped plan. One building contains an ice-making plant, mechanical facilities, a café, and storage areas, and the other houses skate rental, lockers, a shop, and offices. Vegetated berms conceal these structures from the park's main path—visitors can be on top of the center and almost unaware of the crowds twirling below to a soundtrack of pop songs. At a serendipitous (and unplanned) point while crossing a bronze and reclaimed-teak footbridge connecting the terraces, the top of the Verrazano Bridge comes into view in the distance. “It's not unlike what Olmsted and Vaux had designed,” says Zimmerman. “They didn't want you to see everything all at once. They wanted that illusory feel that things disappear and come back and disappear again.”

To achieve this effect, the architecture is deferential to the park's landscape and historical character. While the hockey rink's 25,000-square-foot canopy—its rooftop planted with sedum—appears massive from below, it barely registers from the park's East Drive, and will be even less noticeable as the landscape matures. The 10 granite-clad structural steel columns that support the canopy are irregularly spaced to leave corners open, giving skaters unobstructed sightlines to the lake. Everywhere, Williams and Tsien echo the park's original architecture with granite, bluestone, and bronze, among other materials.

Their bolder gestures are appropriately playful. The midnight-blue stucco ceiling of the hockey rink canopy is as striking in person as it is in the Instagram photos frequently posted by skaters, though carved silver markings styled after blade marks on ice could look kitschy in a few years next to the more timeless lighting, which resembles a starry sky. At times, the old and new clash, such as when the rink's contemporary luminaires come into view from the neighboring esplanade, with its old-fashioned lampposts.

Ultimately, the structures aren't the focus. “The experience of being there is the point,” says Tsien. Among the project's achievements are the varied opportunities it creates for viewing. Onlookers can watch the action from the terrace above or from several comfortable rinkside perspectives.

On a sunny day in early January, spectators included parents of skating children and park visitors who happened upon the new rinks, all watching a stream of people whirl around the ice. With the wrongs of previous decades erased, the site has become a busy center of activity stitched into the fabric of the park with a deftness worthy of Olmsted and Vaux's masterpiece.


Formal name of building:
LeFrak Center at Lakeside

Prospect Park
LeFrak Center at Lakeside
171 East Drive
Brooklyn, NY 11225

Owner: City of New York, Department of Parks and Recreation

Client: Prospect Park Alliance

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
222 Central Park South
New York, NY 10019

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Tod Williams, FAIA, Principal
Billie Tsien, AIA, Principal
Andy Kim, Project Manager
Elisa Testa, Project Architect
Erin Putalik, Project Team
Nate Petty, Project Team
Shengning Zhang, Project Team

Architect of record:
Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects
222 Central Park South
New York, NY 10019

Civil: Stantec

MEP: ICOR Associates

Rink Refrigeration: Van Boerum & Frank Associates

Structural: Robert Silman Associates

Acoustical & Audio‐Visual: Acoustic Dimensions

Code: William Vitacco Associates

Commissioning: EME Group

Geotechnical: Richard Kessler

Graphics: Poulin + Morris

Green Roof: Roofmeadow

Kitchen: Ricca Newmark

Landscape: Prospect Park Alliance Dept of Design and Construction

LEED Consultant: 7Group

Lighting: Renfro Design Group

Security: Ducibella Venter & Santore

Specifications: Construction Specifications

Water feature: Fluidity

General contractor:
Sciame Construction

Michael Moran
© Michael Moran / OTTO

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects

CAD system, project management, or other software used:
AutoCAD 2011


26 acres (park renovation); 75,000 square feet (building project)


$74 million

Completion date:

December 2013



Structural system
Buildings: Cast in place concrete with cmu infill; Canopy: steel columns and beans supporting standard, long span open web steel joists.

Exterior cladding
Wall cladding: Laurentian Green Granite (from Polycore in Quebec, Canada) with four different finishes: split face, thermal, low-honed, sawcut

Paving: Mudset stone paving: 2’ x 2’ x 1-¼” flamed Laurentian Green Granite at entry plaza; 2’ x 2’ x 2” flamed bluestone at green roof; Cobblestone paving: 4” x 8” split face Laurentian Green Granite; Asphalt hex block paving by Hanover;

Metal Panels:
Flat-seamed lead coated copper at canopy soffit and fascia

Metal/glass curtain wall:
Thermally broken Tajima USA/CR Lawrence stainless steel storefront system with 1-½” Viracon Low-E IGU, clear and acid etched.

Reclaimed teak (100 yr old, from India) bridge deck and bridge ceiling; Modified*, skate resistant Red Maple planks for exterior benches and tables.

*Modified by Kebonization, which is a proprietary green process which enchances the durability of maple or pine. More here:

EIFS, ACM, or other:
Dryvit exterior finish system (non-inuclated) with protective fiberglass puck resistant mesh (Panzer mesh) and integral paint finish at all exterior ceilings.

Moisture barrier:
Spray applied above ground air barrier: Henry Air Block 31

Roof membrane above buildings under intensive green roof assembly: Hydrotech 6125 hot fluid applied membrane

Roof membrane above canopy under extensive green roof assembly: Mechanically fastened TPO membrane by Johns Manville

Metal frame: Modified thermally broken Tajima USA/CR Lawrence 316 s.s. storefront system with skate resistant s.s. kick-plates and device panels.

Glass: 1-½” Viracon Low-E IGU, clear or acid etched; Laminated, acid etched opaque Ticket window glazing by Clarity Architectural Products

Entrances: Glazed 316 s.s. exterior doors by Tajima USA/CR Lawrence

Metal doors: Painted hollow metal doors and interior stainless steel hollow metal doors by Curries

Fire-control doors, security grilles: Roll down gates by McKeon

Special doors: Acoustical custom folding millwork panel doors at Cafe and three Party Rooms allow for different event configurations.

Locksets: Sargent/Assa Abbloy

Closers: Rixson, Rockwood, Tormax ADA

Exit devices: Von Duprin

Pulls: Custom s.s. pulls

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings: Tectum

Suspension grid: Armstrong

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Four Daughters

Paints and stains: Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams

Paneling: McNichols perforated s.s. panels at Skate Rental Room, cafe, and dasher boards

Plastic laminate: Abet Laminati, Nevamar

Floor and wall tile: Daltile at interior and covered exterior walls; Heath tile at inset tile mural at exterior wall.

Carpet: Carpet tile by Interface

Special interior finishes unique to this project: ⅜” thk skate-walkable interior flooring by Nora; ¾” thk skate-walkable exterior floor panels by Mondo

Fixed seating: Exterior wood and steel benches and tables fabricated by Custom Fabrication Inc.

Interior downlights:
Lightolier, Edison Price, Focal Point, Kurt Versen

Rink poles and pole lights: Selux
Waterfeature lights: Lumascape
Exterior ceiling downlights: Kurt Verson, Lightolier
Parapet steplights: Lucifer

Dimming System or other lighting controls: Watt Stopper

Forty-one water spray nozzles, each with it’s own pump, plus a supply-water trough transform the elliptical rink pad into a waterplay plaza and reflecting pool in summer.

WC fixtures by Toto, Duravit.

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Energy efficient ice making: ammonia powered, state of the art equipment allows for ice to be efficiently made from november to april. Ammonia is a much more efficient refrigerant than the more common options such as R134 or R134a.

Canopy roof provides shade over about half the ice, allowing more efficient ice making.

Intensive and Extensive green roof assemblies along with a 15,000 gallon rainwater collection cistern and irrigation system provide superior insulation as well as reduce potable water usage and storm water runoff.

Add any additional building components or special equipment that made a significant contribution to this project:
Rechargeable battery powered ice resurfacers: Olympia Ice Bear

Ice refrigeration plant machinery:
Cooling Towers: Baltimore Aircoil
Ammonia Chillers: Chil-Con
Water-cooled Condensers: Chil-Con
Compressors: Vilter
Brine Pumps: Armstrong

Rink pole speakers: EAW

Exterior canopy ceiling speakers: JBL

Security cameras: Pelco