I have lived in Brooklyn for decades, and when I think about it, there is nothing new architecturally–and that would be fine with most Brooklynites. What defines Brooklyn are its brownstones and the Brooklyn Bridge. There are pricey modern houses in Manhattan Beach and Mill Basin, but they are more or less tucked away. From what I have seen of the plans, the new construction downtown on the waterfront will not look really new.

The revolution in Brooklyn has been gentrification and the influx of artists. (And now lately the influx of immigrants in South Brooklyn.) I worked on Washington St. below the Brooklyn Bridge in an old warehouse, in the early 1990s, that then was a mixed use building. There was almost nothing down there other than a few restaurants, an art gallery on the dirt floor of an empty building, Gleason’s Gym, and a nice greensward park along the waterfront. Then it was developed into Dumbo, without any serious dislocation to the eye.

It sounds like Williamsburg will luck out, with the redesign of the old sugar factory keeping its iconic sign. I like the conveyer chute joining the two buildings in the photo below top. I would make it an escalator. I’ll bet there’s a lot to play with inside. The worst thing that could have happened would have been to hire Frank Geary to put a flashy Biblao-style monstrosity along the waterfront. making everything else around it look out of place.

The secret of Brooklyn is that older buildings provide shelter and inspiration to new generations with (sometimes) great ideas. Now, please don’t tell anyone I said that.

Comment made to The Nostalgia Trap by Wayne Curtis, in the May 2011 Atlantic Magazine

By Hudson Owen