The Role of the Architect II
Looking towards the site, north on Carlton Avenue from Bergen Street
The previous post discussed the advantages of having a star architect working on the project. But there are also disadvantages. While he is more likely to be successful in influencing the developer-provided project direction, he may also be less likely to listen to the ideas, input, and concerns of others. An architect with major commissions around the world may not have the time or interest to learn much about the unique site conditions of each one, preferring instead to explore common themes of interest across all of them. And while our site can benefit from lessons learned in other locations, that benefit may come at the expense of the genius loci here.
Take, for example, Gehry’s claim that “there is a constituency of people that live there who fantasize this Brooklyn as brownstones and Court Street and Carroll Gardens and all that, which isn’t on this site." A troubling comment - people who live here are fantasizing about the nature of their neighborhood - from someone who doesn’t live nearby. Court Street and Carroll Gardens? What’s that about? Is this his idea, or someone else’s? Several of the buildings on the site, slated for early demolition, are in fact indistinguishable from buildings on Court Street and Carroll Gardens and all that. It would not be difficult to take a stroll around and see that the site is surrounded by areas that are not only contiguous brownstone neighborhoods - similar to Court Street and Carroll Gardens and all that - but more so. See for yourself. And at the same time it’s more diverse and needs to be connected at the site, not separated. We need our streets. We don’t need private “public” open space that requires a private security force to protect. This is not Grand Avenue in Los Angeles.
Take also Mr. Gehry’s claim that citizens’ groups “should back off when somebody knows what they’re doing”. What does that mean? If you “know" what you’re doing, you have nothing to learn, so you don’t have to listen? I know he’s said all the right things as well: reach out to the community, wanting to meet, wanting to connect, etc. We all could have said some things better. But in the end the architect has a unique role: it’s not what you say, it’s what you do that counts.