Gehry in Brooklyn: He’s Out of Brooklyn

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Earlier this week I posted about Frank Gehry’s departure as architect of the NBA arena planned as the centerpiece of the giant Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. At the time I noted that he was still identified as “master planner” for the overall project — 17 buildings on a 22-acre site, including office towers and apartments. But I wondered then how much involvement he was really going to have on the rest. Now we know. Yesterday the Atlantic Yards developer, Forest City Ratner, clarified that, actually, Gehry’s designs won’t be used for any of the proposed buildings.

This matters not only because this would have been one of the largest projects of Gehry’s career, but because the magic of Gehry’s name, and the serious charm of his designs, was a big reason that the $4 billion Atlantic Yards project kept going forward in the face of no less serious doubts about its proposed height and density. The prospect now is that the project goes forward at the same size, but with designs by whatever less brilliant-but-more-economical architect the developer, Forest City Ratner, reaches for next. In which case, Gehry will have been used — exploited might be the better word — as a kind of launch-phase propulsion device to boost the scheme into orbit, then drop away.

He wouldn’t be the first great architect to be misused that way. And New York wouldn’t be the first city to be misled that way. The whole Atlantic Yards project, which still has some hurdles to climb — city and state approvals, lawsuits, financing deadlines — needs a re-think.