Is the borough’s tallest building also its ugliest?
As much as I love the skyscraper, I have to admit that The Brooklyner, the narrow, 51-story on Lawrence Street in Downtown Brooklyn that is just a few inches taller than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank tower, had apparently earned both titles.
Unlike that stately Art Deco edifice, with its unique design elements, I couldn’t help but feel let down by The Brooklyner, which will house luxury studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom rentals.
A tour of the inside of the building was certainly delightful, thanks to the drop-dead views, floor-to-ceiling glass, full services, a pool table, and decks on the rooftop and fourth-floor decks. But all that opulence only made me feel that residents are the lucky ones because once they get inside, they don’t have to look at the outside of the building — a monolithic bit of pre-Glasnost coldness that catches the eye and then punishes it for stopping, ever so briefly, on its patchwork metal exterior.
Or so I thought!
I called the building’s architect to ask him what the hell he was thinking when he designed such a repulsive residence — but guess what? I was dead wrong. The Brooklyner is not ugly at all.
“It’s a handsome building that relates nicely to the cityscape,” said its architect, Randy Gerner, a partner in the firm of Gerner Kronick and Valcarel. “If you look closely, you’ll notice that the building gets lighter in color as it rises from the street. It gives the sense that the sun is shining, like looking at a mountain from far away.”
I wasn’t fully convinced. So I asked about the patchwork of red and silver metal panels on the facade that resembled the exterior trim on a 1960s-era baseball stadium. Again, I had misjudged them.
“We did a pattern of different colors so that the facade would feel as if it was woven together,” Gerner said. “It’s a tall building, so if the entire facade was, say, brick, it would just look like a wall. I did not want to have a wall. And the woven texture reduces the bulk of the building” in a viewer’s mind.
Bulk was not my issue. This is Downtown Brooklyn — if you’re going to build, build big, I say. My issue with The Brooklyner is that my obviously untrained eye found it so boring.
Fortunately, Gerner set me straight again.
“We did not use common materials on the facade,” he said. “Some others new buildings nearby use common materials. But we wanted ours to not only stand out as a skyscraper, but relate to Brooklyn.”
He dismissed the critics, like Christopher Henrickson, who wrote on his blog, Architectural Lamentations, that the Brooklyner “is so boring and unoriginal that it would almost appear to have no architectural design at all. The massing is slab-like and is essentially devoid of any positive aesthetic character whatsoever.”
Clearly, Henrickson had never picked up the phone and let Randy Gerner explain it all to him.
But not me. I’m man enough to admit it when my opinion is just dead wrong. The Brooklyner is the tallest building in the borough, but it is definitely not the ugliest.