Goodbye to Gehry’s Arena

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2006 version of Gehry design for Atlantic Yards and Nets arena/Gehry Partners

2006 version of Gehry design for Atlantic Yards and Nets arena/Gehry Partners

It was probably the least surprising news of last week, and not just because it had been rumored for a long time — Frank Gehry is no longer the architect for the new Nets arena planned for Brooklyn by the developer (and Nets owner) Bruce Ratner. The arena is the centerpiece of Ratner’s massive — too massive — $4.1 billion Atlantic Yards development, which, if it happens, will also have 16 commercial and residential towers across 22 acres.

Detail of Gehry's Atlantic Yards design showing Nets arena segment/Gehry Partners

Detail of Gehry's Atlantic Yards design showing Nets arena segment/Gehry Partners

To bring down the cost of the arena from $1 billion to something more like $800 million, Ratner has turned to the Kansas City-based firm Ellerbe Becket, which has a sub-specialty in arenas and stadiums, and which had already been consulting with Ratner on ways to bring in Gehry’s arena at lower cost.

Proposed new design for Nets arena/Ellerbe Becket

Proposed new design for Nets arena/Ellerbe Becket

As soon as I heard that Ratner was looking for ways to “value engineer” Gehry’s design I figured it was only a matter of time before Gehry was out of the picture. I couldn’t help but think of something he says to the arts writer Barbara Isenberg in her (interesting) new book Conversations with Frank Gehry.

In a section on his two American mega-projects, Atlantic Yards and the Grand Avenue project in LA, Gehry talks about how hard it is for some clients to understand at first how long his design process can take:

They’re not used to the six month period that I take to slog through this. But at the end of that period, when you do it this way, the work is bullet proof almost. Everything is so essential that you can’t take anything out without upsetting the whole house of cards…

Well, that’s one house of cards that just collapsed. I also remember Gehry once saying that while he had shied away from working with big developers in the past, he felt more confident about it now that he was so famous. “They have to meet me as an equal,” he said. Maybe.

All the same, Gehry has spoken pretty warmly of Ratner in the past, and for now he continues to be master planner for the Atlantic Yards project as a whole. But his departure from the arena makes you wonder how much of the larger project, in the end, will be his.

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