Under the K Bridge Park pulls a major music venue out of thin air

Throwing a dance party in New York is no mean feat. Though there’s no shortage of young people in the city willing to pay for a memorable night out, however, zoning issues, noise complaints, and liquor laws—to say nothing of demands for world-class acoustic standards—have bedeviled venue owners for as long as there’s been music to dance to. One of the biggest concerns is simply that of available space. 3,000-person venues like Brooklyn Paramount or Knockdown Center take up the better part of city blocks, yet there are quite a few artists today who can sell out such locations within minutes. Between them and a 20,000-seat arena like Madison Square Garden, the gap in capacity looms large.

But the chasm has recently been bridged by an ingenious activation of “El-space”—an urban planning term for the area below and around elevated transportation. In this case, the space beneath the Kosciuszko Bridge, which connects Brooklyn to Queens via two four-lane overpasses, has been transformed into Under The K Bridge Park, a 6.7-acre POPS conceived and managed by the nonprofit North Brooklyn Parks Alliance (NBPA).

Designed in 2019 by Toronto landscape architecture firm PUBLIC WORK, with sloping asphalt corridors, native plant gardens, and granite benches reminiscent of street dividers, the underpass by day resembles a European-style skate park or pristine, unpainted parking lot. By night, it becomes simply “Under the K,” a venue with capacity for 10,000 people optimized for the heavy bass and flashing lights of electronic dance music (with tickets running up to $90 per head). The result is a rare and fascinating alignment of interests—between city planners, private developers, the State Department of Transportation, and entertainment managers—which have collectively assembled one of the city’s most exciting new concert venues, seemingly from thin air.

2024 05 18 Under the K Bowery Presents ISOKNOCK credit NBKParks DELSOL New York 03
(NBK Parks)

To call Under the K Bridge Park an example of adaptive reuse is something of a misnomer; it implies the space had a use to begin with. For the previous two decades, the underpass was an unpaved lot hosting rotting wood planks and discarded construction equipment. “Historically, that area below was just dirty and abandoned, with encroachment from some of the industrial businesses around it,” said NBPA’s executive director Katie Denny Horowitz. An opportunity to re-envision the space came in 2015, when the Meeker Avenue Bridge was torn down to make way for the new Kosciuszko in its place. During construction, the city commissioned proposals for the underpass, and NBPA advocated for the unusual idea of granting it life as a public park.

“Many people didn’t believe that it could be built,” Horowitz noted, given its location deep within an Industrial Business Zone. “Members of the public did not go to this part of Greenpoint.” Yet less than a month after their visioning sessions were complete, Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Kosciuszko overpass, inquired about the fate of the possible park beneath. He was given a tour of the space by an NBPA member and greenlit the project with State DOT funding on the spot.

Perpetually shaded by roadway, the spaces beneath bridges are often thought of as dirty and dangerous in the public imagination, in part due to their lack of surveillance and upkeep. The fact that the Kosciuszko spans Newtown Creek, a Superfund site and one of the most terminally polluted rivers in the United States, ought to only compound this perception for Under the K Bridge Park. Yet the pure pleasantness of the space, from PUBLIC WORKS’s thoughtful landscaping of native garden beds to the warm slice of sunlight that falls between overpasses, seems to countermand any latent anxieties. Care has been put into maintaining clean lines between asphalt, concrete and grass, and the lack of apparent grime and signs of routine maintenance go a tremendous way toward rebranding public perceptions of the formerly liminal space. When I visited on a recent weekday morning, pink and blue hydrangeas were in full bloom. A gaggle of skateboarders cruised between several modular ramps and rails, which had been set up in the middle of the previous weekend’s dance floor expressly for them.

2022 06 Under the K House of Yes Glitterbox credit NBKParks DELSOL New York 02
(NBK Parks)

Speaking on his design strategy, PUBLIC WORKS’s principal Marc Ryan described a site that stays open to possibility, inviting the public to participate in its use. “This is a place with the spatiality of a cathedral, but it has like zero finish,” he noted. While interventions remain largely modular, the space was specifically designed to accommodate large crowds. Across two blocks, inclining garden beds embrace vast, unpunctuated stretches of pavement. These soil berms were designed to accommodate bleachers, with thoughts of supporting a theater-in-the-round. (They are currently playing host to dozens of native plant species, as part of an experimental program sponsored by the city to reseed public land). The site has been throwing day-raves and festivals since 2021, originally as an outdoor annex for beloved Brooklyn clubs like House of Yes, which were ready to return to business post-COVID despite indoor gathering restrictions.  By 2023, Bowery Presents (which is owned by mega-promoter AEG) had come forth with a request to stage events for up to 10,000 guests.

Notably, the proceeds from Under the K’s mammoth shows and small local acts alike go to benefit greenspaces across the entire district that comprises Greenpoint and Williamsburg, which NBPA is tasked with maintaining. It’s an expensive mandate; almost all city park alliances are location-specific, with proceeds raised from events limited to benefitting the park they’re held in. “We need to be crafty about how to fund public spaces like these,” Horowitz said. “The Parks Department get less than half a percent of the city’s annual budget, so we can only rely on them for so much. This is an impactful model for how to do that.”

IMG 5785
(Nolan Kelly)

Though they continue to book and oversee all Under the K events in-house, NBPA is more concerned with zoning policy than show business, which is why awareness of the space has come about only gradually. Two shows this spring have solidified its status in Brooklyn’s party-going community. In early May, a weekend-long event curated by the melodic IDM composer Four Tet was followed, less than a week later, by a DJ set from the one-and-only Björk—her first non-festival performance in the U.S. in seven years. That both events appeared to have been organized by the headliners themselves seemed to give Under the K the imprimatur of two of dance music’s most sonically exacting makers. And the venue held its own at both shows, with lights that transformed the space beneath of the bridge into a glimmering dance hall and a bass-friendly sound system that (combined with light rain) made the dance floor feel like the inside of a dishwasher’s rinse cycle. If any ravers seemed to mind getting drenched from the runoff of a major motorway, it did not affect crowd behavior. If the drivers passing over this pleasure dome were less than oblivious to the antics beneath them, there was little way to signal their annoyance—and no one else to get upset by the disturbance besides the folks in Calvary Cemetery, on the other side of Newtown Creek.

Nolan Kelly is a writer and critic based in New York.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top