On the heels of a recent visit to the Brooklyn Army Terminal (BAT), I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Eva Cramer, the leader of SUNY Downstate’s BioBAT Initiative, an ambitious biotechnology program which has joined with a number of other EDC-managed enterprises to bring life back to this Landmark building. It seems a poetic inversion that a building once devoted to the global export of materials of war is now being positioned to export ideas & materials that cure & heal.
And in this regard, I caught a detail: the original renderings of the Cass Gilbert designed project, from 1919, were delineated by none other than Hugh Ferriss, a virtual unknown at the time who would later become the hand of urban setbacks and mood, and who in 1929 published a collection of renderings including Night in the Science Zone accompanied by the following passage. Reflecting upon its publishing just ten years after the horrors of WWI (117,000 Americans killed) and on the eve of the Great Depression, it is an invigorating manifesto of architecture and optimism as we head into Fall:
Buildings like crystal.
Walls of translucent glass.
Sheer glass blocks sheeting a steel grill.
No Gothic branch.
No Acanthus leaf.
No recollections of the plant world.
A mineral kingdom.
Forms as cold as ice.
Night in the Science zone.
A recent waterside view of the BAT, photo by David Grider
Interior atrium of BAT, photo by David Grider
An empty floor ripe with possibility, photo by David Grider
Hugh Ferriss’ 1919 Rendering of BAT from Turner Construction’s A Record of War Activities
Hugh Ferriss’ 1929 Rendering of Night in the Science Zone