Alexandra Lange | Essays

Welcome to Fort Brooklyn

I wrote this for The Architect’s Newspaper, but it didn’t suit. The cliff-like bollards remain to trip everyone headed to the Brooklyn Flea and points south and west.

Let us sincerely hope that the Atlantic Terminal Entrance in Brooklyn, a gateway to the LIRR and the hub’s many subways, marks the end of empty transport monumentality. Sure, we still mourn the death of Penn Station, but every attempt to revive the grand entrance hall ends up being just another mall. This one is in a mall. Why not celebrate the movement of people and their machines instead?

Then, at least, we might get an entrance with an obvious door and clear signage. The AT pavilion is a quarter-round, located at the pointed corner of Flatbush Avenue and Hanson Place. Most of that curve, both at ground level and above, is lined with glass. But there is no visible way in. That welcoming curve is a false gesture since the real doors to the terminal are tucked to either side, marked by little colored circles showing the subway lines below. The stainless steel lettering marking this as “Atlantic Terminal” is also pretty small, and has a lot of competition; it faces only the cars on Flatbush driving from Manhattan, failing to acknowledge other axes of traffic. The ground-floor glass itself is mostly opaque, smudgy frosted panels that just look gray and still bear the small identification numbers. With all the marvels available at Bendheim, it is hard to believe the architects, di Domenico & Partners, couldn’t have picked something with a pattern. [Correction: Bendheim has emailed me to say that there are fewer options in the channel glass specified for exterior use, but there are still other options besides sandblasting. Also that an interior bomb/blast coating may affect the appearance. This is interesting, but does not mitigate my point: there is all this glass, but nothing to see.]

Furthermore, in the interests of security, you can’t see the glass until you are a few yards away: the triangle of sidewalk in front of the entrance has been barricaded with the largest, roughest stone bollards I have ever seen, four feet high, six feet long, not so much arranged as dropped just where people want to walk. (A recent story in the Brooklyn Paper REVEALED! they are larger than the legal requirement.) They have been strategically “softened” on the backside with benches, but the effect from across the street is of the first line of defense.

The façade of the entrance is faced in handsome limestone, which thankfully ends the fussy brick detailing on the mall (a vain attempt to disguise its bulk by architect Hugh Hardy), and the upper wall of windows lets in to a lofty interior. But those windows look at nothing, or rather, a slightly faceted interior wall of limestone with narrow slits. It would seem the perfect place for some large, colorful art (I imagine a Sol LeWitt) – another enticement to come in – but instead just continues the beige.

The art actually inside is also made of stone, Allan and Ellen Wexler’s “Overlook”, an installation of faceted granite blocks that creates a wavy glass balcony above the stair down to the trains. It adds a little texture, but no color, and its stone almost blends with that of the architecture. The stair, it turns out, is what follows the curve. Commuters walk in the side doors and are immediately thrust down to ticketing and trains. I suppose the thinking was that it would be washed with light from the windows and skylight overhead, but I don’t see why we couldn’t have entered over it, on a bridge, and then curved around in a Baroque manner, completing the axis of entry from Flatbush.

Downstairs, the signs are bigger, the ticket booths obvious, the bathrooms relatively tidy. But all that could have been accomplished in less than six years. If all our gateways have to be fortresses, why bother?

Posted in: Architecture, Infrastructure, Planning

Jobs | June 14