Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Favorite Place in New York: The Granite Prospect at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Granite Prospect at night

Over at my other diversion, Tuna Day, we've kept up a conceit known as "Open Request Sunday," which is pretty much just as it sounds.  Loyal followers take turns sending in song requests (or more often, getting strong-armed into submitting songs), which are posted on the blog every Sunday.  It has turned into a great way to incorporate a little more diversity into the rotation, as the requests often represent music I would never even consider posting to the blog (Norwegian electronica?!). 

Why shouldn't we do something similar at Boxed Out?  So here it is... "My Favorite Place in New York."  No rules, except that the place must be located somewhere in the Five Boroughs, of course.  Today, I'll kick things off.  Then, one of you can take the stand, patiently explaining that Brooklyn is "vastly overrated (you hipster/yuppie/bohemian scum!)" and that--if you really think about it--the Society of Illustrators is way better/cooler/quirkier than any stupid waterfront park.  Pretty soon, all 8 million people here will have weighed in with their own personal takes!  Okay, okay.  First things first...

There's no experience in New York quite like that of standing at the top of the Granite Prospect.  It's part Spanish Steps, part Brooklyn Promenade, with the exhilaration of the top of Rockefeller Center.  While it has been lovingly dubbed "The Stairway to Nowhere," it acts more as an amphitheater, a playground and a picnic spot.  Last weekend, it even hosted the performance of an operaWhen approached from the east, it forms a stunning, expansive vista, revealed after a brief and slightly inclined procession through an intimate path enveloped by dense foliage.  The stairs sweep down, and somewhere the ground stops and the water begins.  Built from granite salvaged from the Roosevelt Island Bridge reconstruction project, the materiality of the stairs feels rough and rich, massive but broken-in and familiar as an old baseball mitt.  Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, the extensive Brooklyn Bridge Park has emphatically reconnected Brooklyners to 1.3 miles of previously unused waterfront land.  This grand staircase, as it opens up to the river and the skyline, and Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty beyond, reinforces the recent notion of the water as the "Sixth Borough" that ties the city together.  For me, the Granite Prospect is a paragon of so much of what is great about New York: the invigorating movement of its people, the sanctuary of its abundant parks, the majesty of its skyline, and the waterways that birthed it and serve as its common thread.

Bird's eye view of Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 from the West (background image via Bing Maps)

Granite Prospect at Dusk

A picnic at dusk on the granite steps

Morning view of Lower Manhattan

So all of you current and former New Yorkers--or even out-of-towners!--consider this a call for requests.  If you have an idea, just send me photos, links, description, and whatever else you would like to explain your choice.  Hopefully we can turn this into a regular feature... and maybe someday a visitor's guide :)

How to get to the Granite Prospect:

Take the A or C train to High Street (the first station in Brooklyn), then walk northwest (towards the Brooklyn Bridge) along Cadman Plaza West/Old Fulton Street.  When you get to Fulton Landing, the entrance to the park at Pier 1 is on the left.  Head to the water and take a left.  The staircase will be at the south end of the pier.

The 2, 3 and F trains also stop nearby. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

In Praise of Light and Shadow: The Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins

Such is our way of thinking—we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.
- Junihiro Tanazaki, In Praise of Shadows

5 years after it opened, I finally made it to the Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins Museum with my dad (while back in Kansas City for the All Star Game).  The last time I was there, it was still under construction, and Maura, Wade and I were shooed off of the roofscape by an irritated security guard.  This time, I was able to appreciate the Steven Holl-designed tour-de-force in totality.  With the possible exception of the beautiful siting and procession through the landscape and around the buildings, the outstanding attribute of the Bloch is its treatment of light.  Since the 5 buildings of the Bloch are referred to as "lenses" (by Holl) or as "lanterns" (by everybody else), this makes sense.  The sculpting of daylight is most obvious within the museum, where the ceiling and walls have been carved and curved away from the clerestories.  But it's also being done on the exterior surfaces, such as in the pronounced board formwork of the site cast concrete retaining walls leading down to Rockhill Road along the east edge of the site, the shadows of which accentuate the lines of the landscape.

View of Bloch Building along Rockhill Road

And in the slight kinking of the channel glass facade, which creates a subtle contrast between surfaces of the lanterns, and between the lanterns and the hues of the sky.

The Bloch Building in relation to the original museum, as seen from the South

The embankments of the landscape rise to envelope the museum below, so the lenses are not actually separate buildings, but portions of the building rising above the landscaped roof to create clerestories and atria bathed in soft, natural light.

View of the Bloch Building from the North.  The original museum is to the right and behind the camera, and the sculpture garden is down the hill to the right.

An aerial view helps to clarify what's going on:

Aerial view from West (courtesy of Google Maps)
A clean system of channel glass and stainless steel fittings and trim enhances the perception of the buildings as massive geometric objects emerging from the ground.

One of the lanterns embedded into the landscaped roof, along with coping and base details

Visitors enter at the North end, which is largely above ground.  The atrium is washed in a soft, bright daylight filtering through an innovative wall system developed with Heintges (curtain wall consultants).  Bendheim Glass fabricated a custom 16" wide double-skin channel glass module infilled with Okapane, a translucent light-diffusing insulating material composed of acrylic tubes.  The rhythm of the three-story glass wall is traversed by a cascading staircase leading from the upper lobby to administrative spaces above (I believe).  

Main Atrium of the Bloch Building

Against the brightness of the atrium, the adjoining galleries and the entrance to the original building stand in stark contrast.  The sequence modulates from light to dark and shades between, leading to stunning moments such as below, where the ceiling peels away to capture the sunlight once more.   

Clerestories formed by "cutting away" the landscape from the building

At certain points, the translucent veil is lifted--at the entrance, at the connection to the sculpture garden.  Instead of creating an atmospheric glow or a subdued dimness, the design selectively frames a focal point without.

Connection from Bloch Building to sculpture garden.  Sculptures by Isamu Noguchi can be seen in the foreground.

Even the parking garage, that most utilitarian of structures, cannot escape the penetrating gaze of the Sun.  The undulating concrete roof is punctuated by circular skylights carved into the base of the reflecting pool above, giving the sunbeams a playful air as the water dances across the lens.

Parking garage, beneath the reflecting pool

One of my favorite pieces in the museum's collection also happened to involve a dramatic manipulation of light and shadow: a three-dimensional mural by the Argentine-born French artist Luis Tomasello.  Tomasello is known for creating the Atmosphère chromoplastique, in which white geometric objects with (oftentimes) colored backsides are arranged on a white surface, so that the resulting shadows take on the hue of the color.  It's quite beautiful, and and a striking subversion of traditional notions of color and shadow.

Luis Tomasello, "Chromoplastic Mural"

For further exploration into Tomasello's work, process, philosophy and influences, check out this interview with the artist, helpfully posted by the Nelson Atkins.  It's in French, but fear not... there are subtitles.

If you ever find yourself in Kansas City--or Wichita or Omaha or St. Louis, even--I cannot recommend highly enough a trip to the Nelson-Atkins, whether you're an art enthusiast, an archi-tourist, or both.  And if you finish and feel a little too high fallutin', shift gears and treat yourself to some Gates barbecue.

UPDATE: Marc Fink from Bendheim Wall Systems (which supplied the custom Lamberts channel glass) has helpfully written to fill in the blanks regarding the rest of the design/construction team for glass at the Bloch:

Managing Architect: BNIM
General Contractor: JE Dunn
Glaziers: Carter Glass
Structural Engineer: Kelley Gipple

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Half the Kingdom

In preparation for a massive move to Upstate New York, the Jehovah's Witnesses--longtime residents of DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights--have recently begun to sell off their Brooklyn properties.  The area will be losing a great group of neighbors, but will undoubtedly welcome the surge of new tax revenue.  While in DUMBO the Watchtower properties largely consist of restored warehouses, the Brooklyn Heights holdings are more varied.  The organization inhabits several historic buildings--a carriage house or two, various apartment buildings and the Bossert Hotel, but also possesses a rare (for Brooklyn Heights) bevy of modernist structures.

From what I can tell, the building at 107 Columbia Heights is a dormitory, built in 1959 (according to the inscription at the entrance).  It's not the prettiest building in the world, but it's growing on me.  The two-story base is a methodical and no-nonsense wall of steel, glass and stone, wrapping the corner and leading to a lush entry court along Columbia Heights Street.  Above the brick tower is restrained yet playful, with its slightly whimsical staggered pattern of windows.  The roof appears to boast a common terrace, if the tree peeking out is any indication.

107 Columbia Heights from Orange Street and Columbia Heights

Sunday, July 8, 2012

More from Brooklyn Bridge Park

A few more photos documenting the existing state and construction at the waterfront park, the largest park to be created in New York since Central Park opened in 1873:

View from Promenade to Piers 4 through 6.  6 is largely complete.  Governors Island is in the distance.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

CP-POW: Hudson River Sloop Clearwater

On a pre-sundown stroll in Red Hook last night, Maura and I came across a gathering of people waiting to board the Clearwater sloop, built over 40 years ago by Pete Seeger and friends to raise awareness for the remediation and preservation of the then-heavily-contaminated Hudson River.  Since then, the Clearwater has become a symbol of and resource for research and education, tirelessly sailing up and down the river, and stopping for a festival every now and then.  Late to the party as usual, we missed out on a great chance to take a ride to the west side to watch the fireworks from the river.  Maybe next year!

The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater

Free Outdoor Movies Return to Brooklyn Bridge Park

The summer movie lineup begins tonight at Pier 1, as E.T. is shown on the south lawn at Brooklyn Bridge Park's Pier 1.  A DJ will kick off the evening at 6:00, and the movie will start at sunset.  Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Brooklyn Bridge Park Brings the Noise

Much to report from our Naval-gazing stomping grounds last weekend.  Vegetation sprouting!  Photoville ending!  Pavement blistering!  A pool... idling?  No!

Brooklyn Bridge Park was in full effect, even if its effect is not yet full.  As you may know, only two piers are complete (of 6 in the works).  Pier 1--directly south of Fulton Landing--is home to one of my favorite spaces in the city (more in the future), as well as a rotating calendar of events, including live music, kite flying and outdoor movies (beginning tomorrow).  At the south end of the park, Pier 6--with playgrounds, sand volleyball and rooftop hot dogs--marks the western end of Atlantic Avenue.  In between is mostly construction, though a couple of nice surprises popped up recently.  Maura and I finally checked out Photoville with a friend, never mind that it was one of the hottest days of the summer.  The shipping containers formed a village of exhibitions featuring everything from portraits of unassuming Mainers with compelling stories to a container-scale camera obscura.  Those fatigued by the sweat lodge of the camera obscura exhibit, which projected an upside-down image of the skyline onto a screen in a pitch-black room, could find solace beneath the tents in the food court.  The central court featured a number of visiting food trucks, which featured empanadas, kimchi tacos and Cool Haus ice cream sandwiches (guess which one was started by frustrated architects).

Just north of Photoville, we stopped to check on the "temporary" pool, which has yet to open.  The pool features more shipping containers, some of which serve as bath houses.  It seemed to spring up in a matter of days, and I noticed today that the area to the north has been filled with sand (more volleyball?), and there looks to be a playground or water park coming next.  Supposedly the pool will stand for 5 years until the spot gets a permanent tenant.

Stay tuned for more from our closest and dearest, sparkliest, parkliest park.

New temporary pool in Brooklyn Bridge Park