SHoP’s Barclays Center: More E.T. Than Blade Runner, And Totally Brooklyn
February 26, 2013
Photo: Al Bello/Getty Images
Story by Karen Wong, New Museum deputy director and A+ Awards juror.
The chanting started in the rafters—seats my companion characterized as so high you could touch God. “Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Brooklyn.” The Nets were making a run in the fourth quarter with a couple minutes left, and they were three points down.
In Section 15 of the Barclays Center, we were rooting for the opposing team, the Houston Rockets. (Jeremy Lin was in the house, and he had brought out the Asian community who remained loyal to the former Knicks player after New York let him go to Texas with an unmatched lucrative package.)
As such, this was my first opportunity to check out the ballyhooed stadium, which has been steeped in controversy since its inception. In 2004, Bruce Ratner bought the New Jersey Nets and set his sights on creating the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn as a home for his team. I had followed the drama closely, particularly after I moved to the neighborhood of Cobble Hill, minutes from the proposed stadium. I was convinced that Barclays’ size would create a maelstrom of congestion and trash on the neighboring residential streets. But since the stadium’s opening last fall, my ‘hood remains quiet and unburdened. Nine subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road run directly to Barclays Center. And the green-roofed subway entrance on the plaza is by far the best MTA gateway ever. Read more.
The stadium itself—designed by SHoP Architects—doesn’t disappoint either. The 12,000 Cor-Ten steel panels evolve into a parametric cladding that the lead architect has described as an UFO borne of Richard Serra and Chanel. Rebuking shiny-and-new, this weathered beast conveys a sense of legacy, a neighborhood stalwart that’s been kicking around for decades. At night, the facade is an amorphous dark canvas lit by a linear rose-colored constellation. A dozen years on, SHoP’s winning installation, Dunescape, for P.S.1/MoMA Young Architects Program, grows up.
The welcome mat is the oculus entrance that cantilevers and spirals above with a bizarrely shaped electric signboard that, against all odds, is rather mesmerizing. Upon entering the lobby, there is a glassed-in, sunken practice court where the cheerleaders limber up for the games—and which makes for great people watching. The food concourse, which wraps the stadium, meanwhile, is an epicure’s delight, filled with local favorites like Brooklyn Bangers, Habana Outpost, Fatty ‘Cue BBQ, and Blue Marble ice cream. (I briefly wondered if I had accidentally stumbled into the Brooklyn Flea.)
The slate terrazzo floors are paired with gray panels and chocolate accents. The two distinctive features are the Star Trek strip lighting that hangs low and the angled double entrances to the men’s and women’s restrooms. The majority of the stadium is below ground level, and you can glimpse the high-definition scoreboard from the main entrance. The 18,000 seats are steeply raked, and yet it’s far from the birds-eye-view that you might imagine. The dimensions result in something close to cozy.
The wails of “Brooklyn” waft down, but Lin and his teammates ignore the home crowd’s roar, nailing a couple of consecutive three-pointers. The game-ending buzzer sounds, and Houston wins 106-96. We get our happy ending.
Though it aspires to Ridley Scott’s dystopian Blade Runner, the Barclays Center is more like Steven Spielberg’s heartwarming E.T. And that’s a good thing for Brooklyn.
Bottom two photos: Bruce Damonte