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The 'Smoking Peashooter' That Brought Down Robert Scarano

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"In a city of cramped living, where space is guarded as jealously as Bedouin water, Scarano’s buildings were designed to stimulate a primal pleasure center." So writes Andrew Rice in his fascinating and very very comprehensive New York Times Magazine story about the rise and fall of Robert Scarano. Indeed, in our years covering the work of the controversial architect, the one constant is that Bobby Scar always stimulates our primal pleasure center. Rice's piece, running this weekend but online now, covers the entire Scarano canon: the zoning loopholes, the secret rooms, the "mezzanines," the whole getting banned thing. There are also appearances from all-time Scarano greats like the Finger Building, the Carroll Gardens Hell Building and what became (after a de-Scarano-ing) the Bowery Hotel. It's a must-read, but let's take a moment to talk about Scarano present and future.

His eponymous architecture firm is now down to 20 employees (from a high of 55) while he appeals the ruling that essentially bars him from practicing his craft in New York City. And about that: Following years of complaints, the Department of Buildings was assembling a complicated case against Scarano's zoning-massaging practices, that is, until the master slipped up:

The city brought a new prosecution, a complicated case involving adjoining properties and supposed double counting of zoning rights, but then, in late 2008, a seemingly unambiguous bit of trickery dropped into investigators’ laps. Scarano was seeking a routine approval for a commercial building, which could not be occupied as long as an electrical pole was sitting in the middle of a new driveway. The architect submitted a curious photo of the building: shot from an off-center angle, it gave the appearance that the driveway was no longer obstructed. When the city sent an inspector to the site, he saw the pole hadn’t actually been moved. An excited buildings official e-mailed a colleague: “It is a smoking peashooter.”Scarano breaks his silence in this story ("I believe strongly and until today that my interpretations and my decisions were founded on things that were permissible"), and one can't help but feel sorry for Brooklyn's bad boy of architecture, whose name is now a dirty word to developers. All he was trying to do was make as much money as possible for his clients while building yuppies the oversized glass castles of their dreams. Scarano's work is to the last decade what disco was to the '70s: Faddish, representative of larger trends, ultimately hollow and impossible to forget. We know because we've tried.
· The Supersizer of Brooklyn [NYT Magazine]
· Robert Scarano coverage [Curbed]