The Ongoing Life of the Brooklyn Army Terminal

By September 20, 2010blog
A recent waterside view of the BAT, photo by David Grider

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.
Gleaming stalagmites.
Forms as cold as ice.
Mathematics.
Night in the Science zone.

A recent waterside view of the BAT, photo by David GriderA recent waterside view of the BAT, photo by David Grider

Interior atrium of BAT, photo by David GriderInterior atrium of BAT, photo by David Grider

An empty floor ripe with possibility, 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’ 1919 Rendering of BAT from Turner Construction’s A Record of War Activities

Hugh Ferriss' 1929 Rendering of Night in the Science ZoneHugh Ferriss’ 1929 Rendering of Night in the Science Zone