Architects were buzzing about the derailment of the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Frank Gehry wing on Wednesday evening at the National Building Museum’s annual Honor Award gala. “I feel sad because it was an extraordinary piece for Washington,” said Marilyn Taylorof Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the New York firm retooling the equally troubled Freedom Tower at Ground Zero. “It would be wonderful to see it resurrected.”
Talk of doomed buildings quickly shifted to celebration of urban successes as the architects left a VIP party on the second floor to join nearly 900 guests in the central court for cocktails, dinner and the award presentation. The honoree of the evening, real estate giant Forest City Enterprises, was toasted for making huge urban projects happen.
No one thought Cleveland-based Forest City would drop Mr. Gehry from designing its proposed basketball arena for the New Jersey Nets in Brooklyn, given the company’s commitment to innovative civic projects. Among the most notable are the “sustainable” redevelopment of Denver’s Stapleton Airport and creation of a bio-tech University Park for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.
Many in attendance were looking forward to Forest City’s development of the District’s Southeast Federal Center, a 42-acre mixed-use project on the Anacostia riverfront, which was kicked off yesterday when the General Services Administration handed over the keys to the property.
“They have a genuine commitment to go where no developer would go,” said William Roberts, president of Verizon Maryland. He lauded the developer’s recent plan for declining East Baltimore.
Former Ohio Rep. Louis Stokes praised Forest City’s “visionary” revitalization of Cleveland’s landmark Terminal Tower into a multiuse magnet. “It gave hope to Cleveland that it could move forward,” he said.
Unlike award galas of previous years, which honored such corporate giants as DuPont and Disney, this year’s event seemed more like a family affair. Accepting the top honor from museum Executive Director Chase Rynd and Board of Trustees Chairwoman Carolyn Schwenker Brody was Forest City’s board Co-chairmanAlbert Ratner, who characterized urban sprawl as his biggest challenge for the future.
“How can we make sprawl manageable?” the 78-year-old developer wondered out loud. His controversial suggestion: High-rise, high-density development might be the solution even in low-rise Washington. “I still can’t believe buildings [in Washington] aren’t higher than the U.S. Capitol,” he told the crowd.
Celebrating with Mr. Ratner were his son, Brian Ratner; his daughter, Deborah Ratner Salzberg, head of Forest City’s Washington office; and his cousins Bruce Ratner, Chuck RatnerandRon Ratner, who also work for the 84-year-old company.
“I like them because they love to debate and argue,” San Francisco architect Peter Calthorpe said of the family before guests took their seats to dine on a couscous-and-pea tower, grilled steak and chocolate brownies. “They have a willingness to re-examine old assumptions and an honesty that you don’t always find in the development community.”
Forest City’s involvement in key Washington-area redevelopment projects, including Waterside Mall and Ballston Common Mall, brought out such VIPS as D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rep. Jim Moran, Washington Board of Trade President Bob Peck and Southeastern University President Charlene Drew Jarvis.
Architects designing for Forest City also were present, including Washingtonian Shalom Baranes, San Franciscan Cathy Simonand New Yorker Eugene Kohn. Also sighted was Joe Spear, who is shaping the design of the new Washington Nationals ballpark for HOK Sport, a Kansas City architectural firm. “It won’t look like Camden Yards,” assured Mr. Spear, who expects to debut the design in August.
Guests, who paid $500 per ticket to raise $1 million for the museum, lingered over a large table of post-dessert desserts after the speeches. Instead of leaving with gift bags, they were presented with thank-you notes informing them that Forest City had made a donation to 10 charities on their behalf.