Public sentiment has been mixed towards the Wollman ice rink ever since its construction in 1961 altered Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s historic design for Prospect Park. New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects were charged in 2007 with recreating the park’s former glory, replacing Wollman with a new skating complex set back from Prospect Park Lake and recreating the original landscape in its place. The stagnant economy has eaten into the project’s original budget, forcing the firm to scale back its designs, though the designers believe its paired down nature will help it blend into its surroundings all the better.
"Last year around this time the design was much more ambitious,” Williams sai. “We had an extraordinary structure that was virtually a mountain.” But since the projected cost of $85 million proved prohibitive, Williams and Tsien reduced the building size, removing its elevators, shaving off one story, and reducing the structure’s wide spans, resulting in a current projected cost, including the landscaping, of about $60 million. "I think in the end it’s much more appropriate to the political conditions today,” Williams said. “It’s much more modest.”
The new Lakeside Center will be built on the site of what is now a 300-car parking lot. In place of the Wollman’s single, oversized rink, it will have separate rinks for ice hockey and freestyle skating, with a connecting channel between the two that can be kept open or closed as needed. Prospect Park Alliance landscape architect Christian Zimmerman will restore twenty-two surrounding acres of parkland, including recreating Music Island, an Olmsted- and Vaux-designed haven intended for park-goers to listen to outdoor concerts that was demolished with the construction of Wollman rink.
Whereas Wollman is only active during the winter, the new center is aiming to be a year-round destination, with the freestyle rink potentially doubling as a shallow pool of water in the summer, and the hockey rink used for roller-skating, outdoor films, or parties. The remainder of the center will house a café, classrooms for extracurricular programs run by local schools, and programming supporting the rinks such as ticket booths, skate sales, and lessons.
A green roof will protect the hockey pavilion’s ice from the degradations of rain and sun, extending its usable season, while a lower green roof over the center will feature paving, railings, and clear views of the activity on the rinks below. At night, Williams and Tsien envision the roof acting as a subtle beacon in the park, with light being projected onto the underside of the pavilion roof and then diffusing out into the surrounding grounds, perhaps even in a changing array of colors, as at the Empire State building.
During the day, the rooftop foliage should help the center blend unobtrusively into the surrounding parkland. Since the building’s height was reduced from two stories to one, the subtler gradient creates a smoother transition between park and center. “We get that wow factor,” Zimmerman said. “People think they’re walking up one of the sloping park paths and then all of a sudden they realize they’re on a roof.”