On Wednesday, developer Bruce Ratner unveiled new designs for his planned Nets basketball arena in Brooklyn, an Ellerbe Becket and SHoP-designed complex notable for a set of wavy, dark orange metal bands that wrap around its exterior. (Though it's worth adding that missing is any design of the rest of the $4.9 billion project—which envisions 6,400 apartments and a commercial tower—as the previous designs by Frank Gehry were dropped in the name of cost.)
Now that Mr. Ratner has pledged construction will start by year’s end, which depends on a successful financing of his arena and resolution of a pending eminent domain lawsuit, it seems worth a look back at some of the various renderings and plans over the years.
Back in 2003, Mr. Ratner and a set of investors agreed to buy the New Jersey Nets as part of a plan to bring the team to Brooklyn, with marquis name Frank Gehry signed on as the architect.
By July 2005, wending his way through the various state approvals processes, Mr. Ratner laid out his plans for the entire development with Mr. Gehry, a major development that would, if realized, completely reshape the skyline of Brooklyn. The planned density ignited tremendous resistance from many in the affected communities.
As for the design, the centerpiece of the development was to be the Arena, and sitting at its head was a commercial building called “Miss Brooklyn,” an iconic tower that Mr. Gehry termed his “ego trip.”
Approvals secured, Mr. Ratner released more advanced designs of the arena and two buildings in May 2008. Gone was Miss Brooklyn—Forest City said this was because it was redesigning after the city insisted its height be changed—and in its place was the blocky “B1,” with the name of a tenant ultimately expected to go in its place. Also gone was one of the plan's key amenities and selling points during the approvals process: the publicly accessible green roof of the arena was scrapped.
And then things started to get messy. The economy was tanking, financing was harder to come by, and construction costs had been skyrocketing for years. Mr. Gehry’s arena was getting expensive and Mr. Ratner brought on arena specialists Ellerbe Becket to help trim costs. By January 2009, word leaked out about Ellerbe, and Mr. Ratner's Forest City Ratner said it was “value engineering” the arena design in a bid to save cash.
In early June 2009, Mr. Ratner acknowledged that Frank Gehry had been tossed from the project in the name of cost. In his place was to be Ellerbe Becket, designing a more typical arena. But when Forest City showed its early designs—first to government officials and then to the public via an environmental review document—the response was immediate backlash: the city had been pledged iconic design, and Mr. Ratner had reneged.
Mr. Ratner distanced himself from the early designs, saying the new arena would look different. He swiftly brought on local architectural talent SHoP—well-regarded in the design world and said to be well-liked by City Planning chairwoman Amanda Burden, who is an influential voice in the design of major developments. Working with Ellerbe Becket, the Manhattan firm rapidly worked to create a distinctive structure. Throughout the design work—and during a public comment period on changes to the plan—there were no renderings (other than those in the environmental documents, which Mr. Ratner said did not represent the actual design).
After the close of the public review process, but before the state-run Empire State Development Corporation gives a final re-approval of the plan, Mr. Ratner unveiled the new renderings made by Ellerbe and SHoP. Some of the more notable features are its open views of the arena’s center from the street, and an 80-foot cantilevered canopy by the entrance.
The grid-like skin is planned to be made with weathered steel, with a dark orange tint.