Opportunity knocked for SHoP Architects on July 2, 2009. On that Thursday, Bruce C. Ratner, the beleaguered developer of the controversial Atlantic Yards sports village planned for Brooklyn, N.Y., made an offer that any architect would be crazy to turn down but almost as crazy to accept.
Ratner wanted SHoP to put a better face on a critically panned redesign for his $825-million Barclays Center arena—the centerpiece of the 22-acre transit-oriented development. And he wanted a sketch from SHoP in only five days.
The offer was loaded with other challenges and sensitivities. Ratner had knocked on SHoP's door precisely because he was under pressure to improve the arena's architecture.
Yet SHoP, formed in 1996, had never done any part of an arena or so expansive a facade. And it would be enhancing the work of a veteran arena firm—Ellerbe Becket Architects & Engineers PC (EB).
As facade-design architect working directly for Forest City Ratner Cos. (FCRC), SHoP would have to jump on a moving train and interface with EB—the architect-of-record—and the rest of the arena's design-build team, formed a year earlier. By July 2009, the 675,000-sq-ft project was well into design development, on course for a fall 2012 opening. That meant SHoP's hands were tied, though loosely, in terms of its enclosure redesign.
"We were told, 'You can't change the Ellerbe Becket program, which worked so well, or the form, which fit so well on the site," says Christopher Sharples, one of the founding principals of SHoP, New York City. "It was a heavy lift," he adds.
SHoP had been watching the troubled project from afar: Two FCRC subsidiaries, Atlantic Yards LLC and Brooklyn Arena LLC, had gained state approval of the public-private Atlantic Yards master plan by Gehry Partners, based on "starchitect" Frank Gehry's iconic architecture.
But in 2008, the Gehry arena was over budget, reportedly priced at $1 billion.The recession was in full swing and FCRC could not get financing.
To cut costs, FCRC decided to switch architects and start from scratch, says Robert P. Sanna, director of construction and design development for the Brooklyn-based developer.
SHoP was aware that its redesign was going to be highly scrutinized. The New York City architectural community and the village's foes had felt double-crossed when Ratner tossed the Gehry design.
Despite all the warning signs, SHoP took the job. "We felt by joining the team, we could have a positive impact on the project and the city of New York," says Jonathan L. Mallie, a SHoP principal.
So instead of relaxing over that July 4 weekend, four SHoP partners huddled to come up with some ideas. On Monday, July 6, SHoP showed Ratner a sketch of an arena contoured by a latticework system of pre-weathered steel panels.
SHoP spent the summer of 2009 studying the skin and its impact on the structure, interfacing with the project's local structural engineer, Thornton Tomasetti (TT). In early September, when FCRC unveiled SHoP's scheme, it wasn't excoriated or widely praised. One critic likened the arena to a giant bottle opener.
The arena has three systems of 12,000 pre-weathered panels, with no two alike. Panels cover 85% of the arena's surface.
A lower band wraps the exterior wall at the suite levels. A "halo" surrounds the arena at the roof. There is also an entrance canopy over the public plaza. The canopy, which cantilevers 85 ft beyond the main entrance, has an opening in it the size of a basketball court. The inner surface of the opening is clad with video boards and latticework. The canopy's soffit is completely clad with the latticework.