The new entrance to the Brooklyn Museum is one of the most welcoming public spaces that I've ever experienced. Walking in, you feel like the landscape and architecture are hugging you, inviting you in to linger outside, to look around at and maybe meet other people, and to stay awhile. All of the designers got what Brooklyn is about. It's a space for people. A space to let people move among their neighbors, that carries over from the same populist spirit embodied in our Park's long meadow and our garden's cherry blossom esplanade.
Herbert Mushcamp gives a very good review of the architecture in the NY Times, discussing the Polshek designed glass front and steps, the Judith Heintz landscape architecture and WET design dancing waters. He describes the new "glass steps" as a waterfall cascading from the original McKim Meade & White entranceway into the new amphiteater space created by the stone steps on the left and curved grass steps in the front. The review, written before the space was unleashed on the people, predicts that it's all about access and use. But, you can't truly experience that concept until you've moved through it.
After sitting for a few minutes on the grass steps while my son was busy slupring up an Italian Ice, grinning cheek to cheek with the excitement in the air, I began to quickly feel like this place reminded me of someplace else I had been. In looking around at the people I couldn't believe how many people were here, but I also couldn't believe how un-crowded it felt. Amazingly, the sound of street traffic on Eastern Parkway seemed to be unnoticable and nothing but the sound of dancing waters and people filled the air. I started getting deja vus of being in a Roman space. Then, looking up at the suspended glass entranceway, I began to think of the ways that this space was reminiscent of Roman theater design. The suspended glass made me think of the canvas sails that would be pulled over theaters like the Roman Colloseum to provide shade for the spectators. Looking back at the grass steps and the higher stone steps facing the fountain you begin to feel the effect of this kind of design. It's very successful in making you feel welcome to the museum as a civic place as much as a place for art and education.
What's most exciting about the space, however, is the dancing waters fountain. When we visited on Sunday, the weather was in the 70's, but there was a cool breeze. This didn't stop all the kids that were there from running back and forth screaming as the fountain shot up and sprayed them in the chilly waters. If you looked back at all the parents and other adults watching with huge smiles from the theater steps as the kids squealed with delight, you had to think that this was one of the best outcomes of this entranceway. I don't know if the museum had this use in mind, but these kids were so happy. The museum administration has to feel good about giving that to Brooklyn. It makes my eyes well up when I think of how amazingly free and alive they all were yesterday, dancing through the cold water.
So if you plan to make it to Brooklyn, plan on hanging out at the Museum. They promise to provide a cafe in the winter garden glass atrium (with WiFi?) some day. And if it's a summer day and the fountain is on, bring some extra clothes and water shoes for your kids!