As you walk east along Atlantic Avenue, the new Barclays Center appears first as a dark shape on the horizon. Off center, a wrapped package with a mysterious silhouette. Coming closer, the foreground reveals itself as a long, paved triangle, an on-ramp to the steep planted wedge that forms the roof of the renamed Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center subway station. The roof of the arena dips down in welcome, its brow displaying the brand-new Barclays Center signs in Carolina blue, their color and serifed font making an uneasy contrast with the arena’s red-brown weathering-steel wrapper. The wrapper was designed by SHoP Architects, and the tough mesh speaks of the industrial past and the digital present, an image reinforced by the pulsing screens lining the cut-out entrance canopy. The Barclays logo speaks only of corporate branding, without a lilt. Given the bank’s recent scandals, it may be helpful that the signage can be switched out.
The arena itself cannot be switched out. After nine contentious years, it is here. My first reaction, standing opposite on the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues is: it is big. Much bigger than I expected. The only arena that I am familiar with as a pedestrian is Madison Square Garden, a circular box in a forest of surrounding towers. You never see the bulk of it plain. On television, the cameras shoot arenas from above, turning surrounding parking lots into wallpaper, and emphasizing the shape and edge. But here there’s nothing to obscure, soften, or relate to the arena, which occupies more than a city block. The width of the surrounding streets allows the Barclays Center to stand in relief as the alien presence it is. The architect Gregg Pasquarelli recently described the arena to the New York Times as what might happen if “Richard Serra and Chanel created a U.F.O. together.”