Building Brooklyn Awards 2010

It was so wonderful to see so many of our friends and colleagues at the tenth annual Building Brooklyn awards on July 15th, and we congratulate once again all the winners, as well as the honorees Joe Chan and David Kramer. Their long-standing commitment to the borough could be discerned in their remarks, and, along with Mayor Bloomberg’s surprise visit, gave the event a special meaning. The following article by Susan Doban, CEO of Think Fabricate and Doban Architecture, is taken from the BBA journal:

It’s hard to imagine, because after all it’s “only” been ten short years, but many places now considered “Brooklyn institutions” were brand new or didn’t even exist when the first Building Brooklyn Awards ceremony was held. The Brooklyn Marriott hotel was only two years old, and Fairway Market was only for those doing grocery shopping on Manhattan’s upper west side. Even Steiner Studios, where we gather tonight, did not exist, so we probably wouldn’t have envisioned having a celebration like this in the Navy Yard at the time. Back then, talking about what “might” some day be built “in Brooklyn, if you can believe it”, and who might design it, was starting to become a popular past time.

During the decade that followed the first awards ceremony, many of our cultural institutions were revitalized, including the Brooklyn Historical Society with its renovation and the Brooklyn Museum with its new entrance, both previously recognized with Building Brooklyn awards. We became accustomed to seeing new construction, seemingly “all over the place,” including high rise residential and many new educational projects, many of which have been recognized by the Chamber in these categories over the years. And we saw Joe Chan, a key player in the first BBA, now of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and David Kramer of the Hudson Companies, tonight’s honorees, reach the stature they enjoy today in Brooklyn’s real estate development community.

The discussions about what might be built broadened to include sometimes intense dialogue about how the built landscape has evolved and continues to do so, and its impact on the quality of life in the borough. Perhaps it was recognition of how far we have come, but also a yearning to strive and envision the best possible future, that this year a more finely-tuned set of criteria was adopted by the judging panel. Of course, overall design excellence was weighted most heavily, but specific criteria were established in other important areas as well. It is in many ways reflective of our time, that sustainability and economic impact were singled out as specific criteria. Another new criteria this year was “Brooklynness”, and defining this sparked some interesting discussion.

More than merely a location, but having a lot to do with place, it seems that Brooklynness is both constant and changing; that the Brooklyn we know today is different from the one of ten years ago, but retains certain key characteristics. What is the essence of Brooklyn and how does it manifest itself in BBA winners? Some have said that it’s a certain pluckiness, an attitude. Some have said it’s the elevation and even restoration of that which was formerly old or neglected, be it an object taken from a dumpster or a brownstone restored to life. It can even be the melding of diverse cultural and individual perspectives coming together in a unique place on earth.

This year’s award winners exhibit the full range of these definitions of Brooklynness. From the pluckiness of Congregation Beth Elohim, restoring one building and about to embark on an ambitious master plan for their entire facility, to the IAVI Design and Development Laboratory co-developed by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, to Brooklyn Bowl, the transformation of an iron works into a popular entertainment destination–these representative projects speak to that which makes this a place that respects its past and looks to envision a promising future on many levels.

Just as ten years ago it was difficult to envision the “today” which is familiar to us all, it is now impossible to imagine what the next ten years will bring. I would like to think, though, that that by building upon the foundation of our essential Brooklynness, the next ten years will be as exciting as the decade just passed, and will reflect the commitment to design excellence in all respects, to sustainability, positive economic impact, and all that makes Brooklyn special that we honor here tonight.

Susan G. Doban, AIA, is CEO of Doban Architecture and Think Fabricate, LLC. She is a vice chair of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of its Real Estate Development (RED) Committee.

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