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How Barclays Center Got Its Look

Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment
Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment

In a March lecture just posted to YouTube, Barclays Center architect Gregg Pasquarelli describes how Bruce Ratner, under pressure from bankers, critics and the city in 2009, had to twice change plans for the arena, and at one point even took an off-the-shelf design for Indianapolis' Conseco Field House and plunked it down in the middle of Brooklyn.

Pasquarelli notes that the economic crisis of 2008 forced Ratner to abandon the original and highly praised Frank Gehry design for Barclays Center because it was predicated on having four towers surround the arena, towers that couldn't be financed.

With no financing available for the towers, the architect explained, plans for the arena had to change. "You suddenly had a bowl that was sitting there by itself and the building had to be in the ground by the end of 2009 before the tax laws changed or it would be a many, many hundreds of millions dollar hit for the client." (At the same time, Ratner was negotiating with Mikhail Prokhorov on arena financing, adding to the pressure.)

What happened next led to the arena looking like Conseco on the inside but on the outside getting a distinctive look that's now, finally, taking shape in Brooklyn.

As pressure mounted, Ratner went to his construction company and asked what could be done. Hunt Construction in turn went to Ellerbe Becket who have designed nearly half the NBA's arenas and asked them to find a design. "They went to all of their buildings, they picked out Indianapolis," said Pasquarelli. "They took it, they put it in New York and they ordered the steel so they could get it in the ground."

It was only after the city objected to "a bit of a bait and switch" in replacing a Gehry design with a "field house", that Pasquarelli's firm, SHoP, get the commission. They came up with a new design for Barclays Center in seven weeks.

"It was a much more conservative kind of design, brick and arch, more of a field house," said Pasquarelli of the Conseco design. "So the client came to us and said, 'Could you strip the building all the way down to the steel and think about re-designing it and if you can, we'll give you seven weeks to design the entire building, detail it and cost it. (laughter) And if you can do it for less than x-delta, the project is yours. So that should take about 11 months and we said, 'No problem'' (laughter) and I hope I never have a summer like that again."

SHoP wound up doing more than the exterior. It has designed much of the interior space around Ellerbe Becket's basic, basketball-centric design for Conseco, including clubs, concourses and a look and feel for the arena. "The bowl is almost completely black and dark gray, much more like black box theater, " Pasquarelli said,

As he has in past when speaking to architecture professionals and students, Pasquarelli spoke of the role Jay-Z plays. "Jay-Z is one of the owners of the Nets so we get to work with him on the club spaces. He's an amazing guy, really thoughtful and really interested in space and architecture and events and stuff, terrific to work with."