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08.05.2014
Pacifying Brooklyn
As Atlantic Yards rebrands to Pacific Park, COOKFOX reveals tower for Brooklyn's mega-development.
Courtesy COOKFOX

Even with the SHoP-designed Barclays Center open and a modular tower (also by SHoP) slowly climbing to 32 stories alongside it, the details surrounding the Atlantic Yards redevelopment are still frustratingly difficult to nail down. Eleven years after Frank Gehry unveiled his master plan for the 22-acre site, it is still not clear what exactly will fill most of it in.

That changed slightly this week as Curbed reported that COOKFOX is designing two residential towers that will rise on the site’s eastern edge: 535 Carlton, an 18-story, brick tower that has 298 affordable units, and 550 Vanderbilt, a market-rate condo tower, which is still in the design phase. An eight-acre park, designed by Thomas Balsley Associates, is being planned between the buildings on what is currently a surface-level parking lot. The affordable tower is scheduled to break ground in December and 550 Vanderbilt is expected to follow shortly after.

 
 

Before going into COOKFOX’s design approach, it should be noted that Forest City Ratner has scrapped the name “Atlantic Yards” for the development. From this point on, the project will be known as “Pacific Park Brooklyn.” The new name plays into the site’s southern border (Pacific Street) and the Balsley-design park. It could also be an attempt by Forest City Ratner to detach itself from a name that has been surrounded by controversy since day one.

There are only a few blocks separating SHoP’s rising tower and 535 Carlton, but the two sites are entirely distinct—one crowded with Brooklyn Nets fans and concertgoers and the other quiet, residential, and lined with brownstones. This marked difference is reflected in each tower’s design: SHoP went with bright panels and stacked boxy masses, COOKFOX opted for more modest massing and a stately brick facade.

Rick Cook, a founder of COOKFOX, told AN that he views the two sites “as totally different” and that he wanted to create a building that fits more within a neighborhood than a master plan. To do that, the firm modeled the building’s massing so that it does not loom over the homes of Prospect Heights. Setbacks at 60 feet and 85 feet create rooftop terraces that will contain community gardening plots.

To further contextualize the building, Cook said it was immediately clear that they should use masonry (both 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt will be masonry). “I don’t know of a better tool than an eight-inch brick to make a scale transition,” he said.

For added dimension on 535 Carlton’s facade, COOKFOX placed the building’s windows within pronounced metal frames—this technique has recently appeared on multiple high-end projects in New York City, but is fairly unexpected for an affordable housing building.

 

“After looking at a lot of affordable housing projects, something that is really missing is depth,” said Cook. “A masonry skin with no-depth just does not feel right; it feels like wallpaper.” The metal frames, he explained, play-off light and shadow and “accent the architectural intent” of the structure.

This building is still rental—and affordable rental at that—so air conditioners are tucked beneath each window. Instead of covering the AC units with standard metal-grids, COOKFOX employed a laser-cut screen that resembles a dragonfly’s wing.

The other key aspect of the newly branded Pacific Park is the park itself. While there are no full renderings yet, the two COOKFOX buildings are designed to create a connection between the open space and the street. That is partially done through the buildings’ lobbies, which provide “open vistas” onto the park, according to a press release from Forest City Ratner.

 
 

As for the rest of Pacific Park, construction is starting to finally pick up. As the New York Times reported in June, Forest City Ratner and New York State struck a deal to speed-up construction at the site—specifically the construction of affordable units. Now, all 2,250 affordable units at Pacific Park must completed by 2025, a decade ahead of schedule. And if the developer does not break ground on the first 600 affordable units—split evenly between 535 Carlton Avenue and SHoP’s second tower, 30 Sixth Avenue—within the next year, it will have to pay a $5 million fine. To that end, 30 Sixth Avenue is scheduled to break ground next summer.

As these new towers start to rise, though, they only represent a small piece of the six-million-square-foot site. In order for more towers to follow the actual rail yards have to be capped, which, according to Curbed, must be finalized by 2017.

Henry Melcher