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Architects unite for 2013 Building Brooklyn Awards

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce president Carlo Scissura, Chamber Chair Denise Arbesu and Brooklyn Borough President Marty MarkowitzPhoto by John Calabrese

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Three cheers for fine design!

More than 400 fans of architectural excellence turned out Wednesday to toast the winners of the 2013 Building Brooklyn Awards for bold projects that help make the borough a better place.

They celebrated work ranging from an innovative breast-cancer care center in Borough Park to a sleek new shopping site for Fulton Street – a mix of thoughtfully adapted old buildings and new construction.

“You look around this room – you see who's here. You know Brooklyn really is the future,” Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle amid the throng at the reception held at pre-Civil War-built Liberty Warehouse in Red Hook.

“We are making use of everything that was Brooklyn, that is Brooklyn, and that will be Brooklyn,” he said. 

This was the Chamber's 13th annual salute to superb construction and renovation, with the winners, as always, chosen by a judging committee of architects, planners, government officials, economic development experts and business leaders.

One of the creatively transformed buildings that won the judges' hearts is the Gilbert Rivera Pavilion/Maimonides Breast Cancer Center – which had been a World War II munitions factory.

“I left Sloan-Kettering to build this center,” Dr. Patrick Borgen, the director of Maimonides' Brooklyn Breast Cancer Program, told the Eagle.

“We brought in spa designers. We have acoustic music and live plants. There's a waterfall. The whole thing is life-affirming,” he said.

“There is no other place like this in Brooklyn,” Maimonides Medical Center CEO Pamela Brier, a Brooklyn Heights resident, said when she accepted the facility's award.

The head of the foundation that pledged a $1 million gift to the center, Erminia Rivera, was also honored at the ceremony. The foundation founded in memory of her late husband, Gilbert Rivera, focuses on children, education and battling cancer.

Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez (D-Bushwick, Greenpoint, Red Hook, Sunset Park, Williamsburg) called Erminia “a pillar of our community” in a video tribute.

The awards ceremony included another video shout-out – from Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who had to leave early – for the Chamber's other honoree, New York Law School Dean Anthony Crowell.

The legal eagle is “young and good-looking – and I hate you for it,” Markowitz said jestingly.

During the presentation, Chamber president Scissura recalled the “total devastation” Hurricane Sandy inflicted on Red Hook – which flooded event venue Liberty Warehouse, where the July 10 award ceremony was held.

He called for applause for Liberty Warehouse operator Buzz O'Keeffe – whose famed, flood-decimated River Cafe will be re-opening this summer.

Another award-winning adapted building was the Pitkin Theater Center, which was originally built as a burlesque palace “just in time for burlesque to end,” Kenneth Olson of POKO Partners LLC told the Eagle. It became a Loew's movie theater and showed talkies when they were a new thing.

The Brownsville building had no windows, which added considerably to the design challenge of refitting it for use by a charter school and retailers.

“Our mission is to create projects that are a catalyst for neighborhood transformation,” said Olson – who admitted that “so far, our ROA [return on investment] sucks. But we're in it for the long term.

“We own the building; it's a $50 million investment.”

The design challenge was considerably different for Two Trees Management Co., which received its award for the makeover of a North Williamsburg industrial loft building into the 73-room Wythe Hotel.

“The hardest part was not screwing it up,” said Hale Everets, the Walentas family company's in-house architect. “The building has so much character on its own.”

Everets, who once lived a block from the building that Two Trees has turned into a buzz-generating hotel, said there wasn't much going on there (besides Brooklyn Bowl) when the firm started the renovation project.

“There was tumbleweed rolling down the street,” he deadpanned.

A smaller-scale adaptive reuse winner, the Subtractive House, is a 19th Century Park Slope brownstone on the outside with dramatic double-height space created on the inside.

Two of Brooklyn's grand old institutions – the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden – were feted for their work.

“It's our first new building in 100 years; we won on our first try,” Jonathan Jones, BAM's director of capital projects, told the Eagle.

The BAM Fisher playhouse was created by adding a new six-story structure onto a 1920s landmarked former Salvation Army building. All tickets for performances at the new theater are priced at $20.   

“We wanted to do a venue that would support experimental, up-and-coming work that comes from the community … and make it accessible to the community,” Jones said.

The first season at BAM's new theater has been completed.

“We packed in a lot of shows,” he said. “It went very well.”

The Botanic Garden's leaf-shaped, glass-walled Visitor Center was the judges' pick for its energy efficiency. It was built beneath an earthen berm, with a “living roof” covered with 40,000 plants.

“You really have to see it – it's amazing,” Garden President Scot Medbury said when he accepted his award.

Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer said she was “thrilled” to accept the landscape and open space award for the popular waterside park's Pier 5.

The pier has synthetic-turf playing fields with dimmable lighting and a “picnic peninsula” with banquet-length picnic tables and 22 barbecue grill tops.

The Brooklyn Nets' new home, Barclays Center, built of 600 tons of steel sheets, won a rave review from the Chamber president.

“We know it's changed the face of Brooklyn,” Scissura said.

New buildings among the award winners have been well-received, their creators told the Eagle.

“I'm very proud to bring real architecture that combats NIMBYism and elevates the whole community,” said Elissa Winzelberg, director of design and construction at Common Ground.

Her organization built the Hegeman, a sleek 161-unit East New York residence for low-income and formerly homeless adults.

Robin Sen, the architect who designed the environmentally-friendly Kensington Library, said he checks in on his creation whenever he visits a renovation project he's working on at nearby Public School 48.

“The whole community is very happy with my building,” he said.

It's the first brand-new facility the Brooklyn Public Library has constructed in two decades, “an example of what a 21st Century library should look like,” library CEO Linda Johnson said when she accepted the award for the 18,000-square-foot branch.

Paul Travis, managing partner of Washington Square Partners, was elated about his win for the eye-catching retail building that's part of his City Point project on Fulton Street Mall.

“It's about time – I've been working in Brooklyn forever,” he joked to the Eagle. “It's great to be part of the renaissance of Fulton Street.”

The 50,000-square-foot building with ribbed facing, which houses Armani Exchange, is a next-door neighbor of the landmarked former Dime Savings Bank building that Chase now occupies.

“With all the historic character of the neighborhood, there needed to be something new and fresh,” the project's architect, Robert Yuricic of GreenbergFarrow, told the Eagle.

Another award winner, Toll Brothers' 65-unit condo residence 205 Water St., was the first newly constructed building in the DUMBO Historic District.

“It was a lot of fun to work on,” architect Navid Maqami of Perkins Eastman told the Eagle. “We got it through the Landmarks Preservation Commission approval process on the first try.

“It's supposed to embody the industrial nature of DUMBO,” he said.

With such a high-impact roster of winners this year, we at the Eagle can't wait to see who next year's contenders will be.

July 12, 2013 - 9:30am


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