B(N)B Lost Opportunity, South Williamsburg

Continuing the Building (North) Brooklyn awards ceremony, and following up on last week’s post for Lost Opportunity: Williamsburg, today we bring you 216 Broadway, winner of of the B(N)B for Lost Opportunity: South Williamsburg. Normally, we don’t venture past Broadway for architectural criticism – the barrel is very small, and its filled with a lot of big fish – but this site is so prominent, and the results so atrocious, that we just couldn’t resist.

The South Williamsburg Flatiron Building (216 Broadway)
Architect: Henry Radusky, Bricolage

Broadway has a long history as a main commercial thoroughfare. It is home to many wonderful buildings from Williamsburg’s heyday, including a number of individual landmarks and a host of buildings that ought to be landmarks. The Williamsburg Bridge Plaza has a less auspicious history – constantly fighting a battle between grandeur and functionalism (guess who usually wins). In the past few years, we have watched Broadway’s vacant lots get filled in with banality after banality, interspersed with more than the occasional monstrosity.

Broadway, near Driggs – the bar for quality new architecture on Broadway is set very low.

Somehow, though, we held out hope for the site at the intersection of Broadway, South 8th and Roebling. Here was a classic New York City intersection with all the potential for modern-day Flatiron building. This after all is one of the sites that welcomes the motoring visitor from Manhattan, sitting as it does at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge off ramp. The site protrudes into the Williamsburg Bridge “Plaza” (after 100 yesrs of functional compromise, the quotes are all that are left of any idea of a grand plaza at the Brooklyn foot of the bridge), and practically begs for a grand architectural gesture.

Flatiron_side.JPG216 Broadway, the Broadway facade

Alas, the architect for this site (our man at Bricolage) decided to err on the side of banality. And at least there, he has hit his mark. In fact, its hard to imagine a more uninspired, depressing building. This building maximizes its zoning envelope to the detriment of all around, and in the process proves once again that brick – in and of itself – is not contextual. It would be a more attractive and contextual building if it were unfaced CMU. But the side facades are but an appetizer for the true disappointment of this building – its prow, which is practically a blank wall with an elevator bulkhead looming over the streetscape. Surely the windows on this facade are entirely functional – as is every design “gesture” in this pile – but we think the building would have been truer to its ideals if it just left a big blank wall.