Must-See Fort Greene and Clinton Hill
by Caitlin Dover, 10/16/2013
Higgins Hall. Photo: Rene Perez
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History and Architecture
The legacy of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill is one of creativity, diversity and activism: over the years, the area has been home to abolitionists, musicians, writers and outspoken personalities, including Walt Whitman, author Richard Wright (who wrote Native Son while living in Fort Greene), rocker Patti Smith and filmmaker Spike Lee. A thriving African-American community has shaped the area's culture for many years, and some of the nation's foremost black artists live and work here: Lee's production company is headquartered near Fort Greene Park, and visual artist Lorna Simpson's studio on Vanderbilt Avenue, designed by architect David Adjaye, is among the area's most noteworthy modern buildings.
Of course, much of the neighborhoods' appealing architecture was created around the turn of the 20th century. Thanks to the multifarious tastes of the Gilded Age businessmen who settled in what was then called "the Hill," the many stately brownstones are interspersed with a mix of cozy clapboard homes and Romanesque fantasies in red brick, not to mention the Brooklyn Masonic Temple's imposing neoclassical façade. Perhaps the best architectural representative of Clinton Hill's eclecticism and its tendency to bring together the old and new is Pratt Institute's Higgins Hall. After a fire destroyed part of the 19th-century brick structure in 1996, architect Steven Holl created a contemporary addition that connects the building's two older wings. Its translucent walls make this modern bridge glow warmly after dark—today's design casting light on that of yesterday.