McCarren Park Pool model. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by Jeffrey Man, courtesy of Usagi NY Gallery.
New York City’s landscape is constantly changing. Everyday we walk under scaffolding, around boarded-up sidewalks and through a symphony of jackhammers. But for those who want a closer look at what happens before the bricks pile up, there’s a new architecture exhibition that’s not to be missed. It’s called “Brooklyn in Process” and will be at Usagi NY Gallery in DUMBO, Brooklyn until March 12th.
The show exhibits projects by Marvel Architects, the team behind some of Brooklyn’s biggest architectural endeavors of the past few years. In 2012, they restored McCarren Park Pool. They strengthened the 1936 brick archway and erased years of graffiti. A year later, the firm finished building 23 townhouses on Boerum Hill’s State Street, making it Brooklyn’s first block of all townhouses in more than a century.
At “Brooklyn in Process,” locals get a behind-the-scenes look at some of the buildings they pass everyday. “We wanted people to be able to see the dirtiness and messiness of the creative process, and also the beauty of it,” said Lissa So, a founding partner of Marvel Architects.
The show is set up as a maze of freestanding white walls. Each wall represents a different project by Marvel. On the front, a video plays aerial shots of the building. On the back, we see a more messy perspective. Blueprints, brick samples and construction-site photos are tacked into a colorful collage in no apparent order.
But through that curated chaos, a story about each building emerges. Newspaper articles show how the architects went back and forth with community boards to get neighborhood approval. And we see the architects agonizing over the tiniest details in their notes, like what color to paint the supports of a building’s ladder.
“We see our role as architects as working for the public good,” said Jonathan Marvel, the principal and founder of Marvel Architects.
So every project begins with hanging out in the neighborhood and interviewing locals. Then the materials are carefully chosen. For the McCarren Pool project, the architects lined the historic building’s inner walls with discarded planks from the Coney Island Boardwalk. And they covered the lobby ceiling with wire storage baskets, the same ones that McCarren Pool visitors used in the 20th century to keep their clothes in.
St. Ann’s Warehouse, DUMBO pre-restoration. Photo: Laura Itzkowitz for Untapped Cities.
One of the firm’s latest high-profile projects was restoring an old tobacco warehouse on DUMBO’s Water Street. What looked like a crumbling brick fortress is now the new home of St. Ann’s Warehouse, a hip performing-arts center. In that project, the architects recycled bluestone pavement from Empire Stores, a neighboring coffee warehouse circa 1869. The pavement has been given new life in St. Ann’s garden.
After studying the up-close details of each building, it’s nice to walk around to the front of the wall and see a zoomed-out view. The aerial videos are courtesy of Marvel Vision, a new drone-video company founded by Marvel’s son Pablo. Up in the air, the buildings appear more like works of art than functional tools.
But not all the buildings have been seen that way. A hotel and condo project in Brooklyn Bridge Park has received a lot of backlash from Brooklyn Heights dwellers, who are concerned about how the buildings would block views and cast shadows. Still, the firm has worked on Brooklyn affordable housing and many of their projects are public.
Leaving the exhibit, a question arises. Where is Brooklyn’s landscape headed?
“I think Brooklyn is developing a vocabulary of its own that is much more varied and spontaneous than what you see in Manhattan,” said Marvel. “Manhattan is a little more polished. Brooklyn celebrates the nitty-gritty, the roughness of our city.”
Click here to see a video preview of the the exhibition, shot by Marvel Vision.