Each week brings news of new development somewhere in Brooklyn. That’s just the city we live in. This is particularly true in the epicenter of glassy development that is the new Williamsburg, where it seems every time a artisanal cocktail gets made, a Manhattanite picks up the keys to a $4,000/month 1-bedroom apartment. But beyond the problem of what the development means—for the neighborhood, for the borough, for the future—it’s worth considering on the shallowest aesthetic level what this development is making Williamsburg look like.
In a word: sad. In more words: cold, soulless, completely void of character. In the mock-up of 127-131 South 1st Street in Williamsburg, posted by NY YIMBY (note the matching Audis outside), the bleak, featureless façade of the new Brooklyn is on full display. This architectural style has been popping up in the past year or two, from Crown Heights’ new Starbucks vehicle, 341 Eastern Parkway, to Williamsburg’s very own Starbucks vehicle, at Union Ave & Ainslie Street, the neighborhood is starting to look like a suburban outlet mall.
Even worse than looking like a suburban outlet mall, though, is looking like a midtown chain hotel, like The Edge on Williamsburg’s waterfront. And it isn’t just NoBro falling prey to this slick brand of ugliness—just look at the Brooklyner. Of course, not everything in New York City can be a Renzo Piano masterpiece, or even necessarily good-looking. But then again, given the seemingly endless supply of cash developers seem to have, why not?
Perhaps it’s a lack of aesthetic sensibility, or a penchant for trendy-looking architecture that manages to be loud without being interesting. After all, someone greenlighted the Verizon building on Pearl Street way back when. Perhaps, instead, the über-snooze of 127-131 South 1st Street is a wry commentary on the neighborhood’s drained personality—a Fight Club-like way of selling lack of character back to the people pricing character out. Or maybe it’s just that nobody cares as long as it will sell.
The default structure seems to be, if not just glass, simple common bond brick fronts, maybe in exciting colors like gray or plain; boxy casement windows; and absolutely zero curb appeal. Cobble Hill is watching its back on this front, declaring at least one proposed project to be “too glassy,” which is at least one of the things wrong with it. Even an ugly or “too glassy” building would be a more welcome addition than something that looks like it was dreamed up by a first-year architecture student sketching out an Omaha department store.
Neighborhood change is a favorite song of Brooklynites, and it’s one of the easiest old standards to trot out when forced to make conversation. In many cases, the conversation centers on how many coffee shops and/or baby clothing stores exist where there used to be bodegas and ethnic restaurants, rendering stretches like Franklin Avenue and Court Street unrecognizable from ten, fifteen, or thirty years earlier. In the case of Williamsburg, streets are quickly becoming unrecognizable in a literal way, a new nondescript brick behemoth on each corner every other month.
Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.