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Monday, November 14, 2011

Jane's Carousel



Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn, New York by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, 2011

On September 16, 2011 Jane's Carousel officially opened in a small but prominent corner of Brooklyn Bridge Park between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel (the Pritzker Prize winner is also responsible for the earlier 40 Mercer Residences and 100 Eleventh Avenue, as well as for the MoMA Tower that is in planning), the project is named for artist Jane Walentas, who almost single-handedly brought the 1922 carousel from Ohio to Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood. Many people probably recall glancing inside a glass storefront on nearby Water Street, a way station of sorts for the carousel as it was restored and its future was planned. Its existence in a malleable glass box is the culmination of decades of Jane's work, care, and drive.

Of course it should be noted that Jane's husband, David Walentas, is a developer responsible for much of DUMBO's transformation from an industrial area to a gentrified one with shops, residences, offices, and now parks along the East River. His 1983 master plan for DUMBO included a carousel for the riverside park, and the following year the couple purchased the carousel in Youngstown, Ohio. In a sense DUMBO, Jane's Carousel, and Brooklyn Bridge Park are a synthesis of globalization and the loss of manufacturing in North America: The first and last are occupy former industrial buildings and land; the second arose from Youngstown's decline as a steel town, among other circumstances. This large-scale view probably won't impact one's experience of the place, but it is interesting to consider the project as part of global circumstances (we could also add on to it how Nouvel is a global "Starchitect" based in France but who probably spends more time in transit than his home city).
Jane's Carousel is a completely restored historic Carousel made by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC #61) in 1922. ... It was the first Carousel to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. -janescarousel.com
The combination of a colorful carved-wood carousel and a glass pavilion with a reflective stainless steel ceiling may seem a bit odd at first, but in a number of ways it makes perfect sense. The enclosure puts the carousel on display; it allows riders to have views of the bridges, DUMBO, and Manhattan across the East River; it opens itself up via large glass doors on two sides to announce itself as open and allow breezes through; and of course it shelters without competing with the look of the carousel. And while it may appear to be just a dumb box, Nouvel's design is more nuanced than that monicker. It features butt-glazed glass on two sides, while the other two have the operable panels. In the middle of the ribbed stainless steel ceiling is a glass oculus that aligns with the carousel below; this opening brings light to the top of the carousel but also makes the space appear to extend upward.

Lastly, the project deserves to be discussed in terms of its location within DUMBO and Brooklyn Bridge Park. The pavilion sits in Empire Fulton Ferry Park, a peninsula that is currently cut off from Brooklyn Bridge Plaza to the south, but which will connect the parks to the east and south in a chain over over 1.5 miles. Currently Jane's Carousel is best accessed from Dock Street to the south or from Main Street Park to the east. Whatever the approach, the pavilion's location gives it a prominence, aided by the way it is raised slightly from the surrounding boardwalk on a plinth. The epicenter of Brooklyn Bridge Park may be south of Brooklyn Bridge, but Jane's Carousel will help draw people to the northern end of the park, where the unique position between the bridges -- and the round and round of the carousel -- gives a unique vantage point on this place of transformation.

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