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In Architect's Talks, Arena Unveiled

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With the Barclays Center facade being installed and completion a little more than a year away, curiosity is building about the finished product...what will it look like--on the outside, on the inside, at night;, how decisions on its design were made and how it fits into the overall plan for Atlantic Yards, the largest private real estate project in New York.

Twice in the early part of the year, Gregg Pasquarelli, a principal in SHoP Architects, spoke about all that in academic lectures, first in January before the Architectural League of New York at Cooper Union, then in March before the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan. Both are available online. So we took a look at them. They offer rich details to satisfy that curiosity, including Jay-Z's role in the design of arena spaces and how Frank Gehry's "master plan" may be revised.

Gregg Pasquarelli from Architectural League of New York on Vimeo.

In the January lecture, where the Barclays Center discussion starts at 00:13:05, Pasquarelli spoke mainly about the arena plans...and the "amazing challenge and incredible deadlines" his SHoP Architects have faced in designing what he ironically called a "super under the radar, uncontroversial project".

While the interior of the arena will look quite a bit like the Conseco Arena in Indianapolis (not a bad thing), Pasquarelli said he felt what would make Barclays Center a "capital 'A' piece of architecture" is the "glass and metal wall that clips on to the building"...the facade now going up along Atlantic Avenue.

But Pasquarelli's talk also revealed some other aspects of the design that haven't gotten a lot of attention, starting with the special opportunity the arena presents because with the flat straight  site lines of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, the arena "will be seen from several miles away."

Moreover, Pasquarelli spoke about how SHoP was trying to replicate the "noir" of "the Brooklyn night, the wet street", inside the arena. "That shiny floor, that dark ceiling with the stars, that pop of color...that was sort of our inspiration for the way this might look."

He described the bowl as "pretty dark...I think that we really feel about sports is that it's a 'black box theater'", he said comparing it to the intimate experimental theaters that abound throughout the city. "It is theater where there is no scripted ending. It's this place that you go where you don't know what's going to happen at the end.  So it's about this atmospheric element not looking garish with a lot of bright colors but a very sophisticated palate that runs around it".

To that point, he said concession stands would be "minimalist" in design, "boxes that pop out through the weathering steel" that will be featured inside and outside the arena. There will also be "special bars or restaurants [that] sort of burst through the dark black box" of the bowl.

He also spoke of the fans' experience as they enter the arena from the Transit Connection in front of the arena. "The scoreboard is visible from the outside of the building...can't see the game because it's down below, but there is immediate interaction when one comes to the arena...from the plaza at all times you will be able to see the entrance and look at the scoreboard." He promised as well that "the Nets will be winning by the time this building is done".

Discussing the "prow" of the arena, with its "oculus", or circular window, Pasquarelli said it was designed to keep external signage at a minimum. The interior wall of oculus will feature "digital boards"  so that  there will be "less of that on the outside affecting the neighborhood". He also suggested it could become "this landmark where you meet before a game."

Gregg Pasquarelli, SHoP Architects/SHoP Construction from Taubman College on Vimeo.

In the University of Michigan lecture, two months later, Pasquarelli spoke of the same things, as well as revealing how his firm almost turned down the commission. It starts at 00:53:30.

"We said we couldn't do a skin. That wasn't what we did. We wouldn't put wallpaper on another architect's project. We actually said no and we walked away, everyone shook hands and we thought it was great," he told a group of architects and students. "And we sat around for a week and we came up with one idea. And we called them up and we said, 'Will you give us 48 hours? We have one idea that we think will work and if you think it will work, we'll continue the conversation' and that's what we did."

The idea was to use horizontal bands of weathered steel to "break the mass of the building" and could be woven into the interior as well. He added that the "black box" idea was something SHoP was still "battling for", joking that at that point the arena was "somewhere between black and eggplant".

Pasquarelli revealed how the arena will be lit from inside the facade, not from without. "At night, the lighting is all on the inside of the arena. There's nothing that lights it from the outside so the only thing that gets caught are the folded pieces of metal as the light glows from the inside," he noted, while showing a previously unseen slide of the Barclays Center at night (at 01:02:50).

He also confirmed that the firm is working with Jay-Z on at least one aspect of the arena. "Jay-Z is one of the owners of the Nets. We've been working very closely with him on all the club spaces which is really fun." (Brett Yormark said recently that Jay-Z is also working on the team's uniforms and colors.)

And in a bit of news, Pasquarelli said his company's commission for the first residential tower, at the southeast corner of the arena, also includes a new look at Frank Gehry's master plan for Atlantic Yards. "The client gave us the commission to do the first of the 1.7 million square feet of towers around the arena and completely rethink the Gehry master plan and open up the whole thing because there are some issues with it that we think could have some improvement and [we'll] see what we can do on the site."

After Gehry was dumped as the architect for Atlantic Yards, the Nets promoted the idea that the overall project was still "master planned" by Gehry, probably the world's most pre-eminent architect.