Where is the Love? The Building Bostonians Love to Hate

Boston City Hall, Rear facing Faneuil Hall, Photo Credit: Historic American Building Survey

Yelp has become quite the platform for not only reviewing restaurants, hotels, stores and everything in between, but also architecture and public spaces. Who knew? 

 Curious to see what people had to say about some of Boston’s most beautiful “ugly” buildings, I conducted a search on Yelp.

It turns out, people love the Christian Science Monitor Complex in Boston, a complex with an excellent collection of concrete buildings from around the 1970′s, but hate Boston City Hall. Who knew?  Bostonians love to hate it, while those reviewers from other states like it.

Did you know that in 1976, on a national survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects and taken by architects, critics and historians in the United States, Boston City Hall was voted as one of the ten greatest works in American architectural history? I have been saying that for years, but read it from our very own architecture critic Robert Campbell

I think Boston City Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings in the City of Boston. Let’s agree to disagree.

Yelp Reviews of City Hall:

Jeremy G. from Humble, TX – writes “THIS is the building Le Corbusier **WISHED** he had designed.”

Beans B. from Brighton, MA:  “From the wind-swept brick wasteland outside to the ridiculously narrow and uncomfortable spectator seats in the city council chamber to the lack of sufficient restrooms this building is a disaster.”

Alexandra S. from Hingham, MA: “There’s no avoiding the area for me since I walk through Boston City Hall plaza twice a day during the week. Ultimately, the sad reality is that no matter how much I’ve looked for something to appreciate, I don’t like this building.  

I’ll even go a step further and say that there is in fact nothing redeeming at all about Boston CIty Hall and the red brick environs. I finally just have to admit to myself that this is just one ugly and off-putting building and plaza.”

Sebastian Y. from Boston, MA: “A monstrosity apparently designed by angry communists, which would look more at home on the outskirts of Moscow or Minsk.” 

Hans W. from Brooklyn, NY writes:  “City Hall is a badass spaceship space palace, and it’s sitting downtown because in 1962 someone had an original idea and someone else took a chance on it.  And that’s what life’s all about.”-

K G. from Boston, MA: “I don’t despise the building itself as much as many people seem to.  I have not seen another building like it, so you can call it unique at least.”

Jack M. from Boston, MA: “As a friend of mine once said, “Boston City Hall is the ugliest piece of architecture on the planet”.

Dan B. from Newton, MA: “The Boston City Hall looks like a good design for a maximum security prison in the Soviet Union.  Except even the Soviets would never have come up with the giant concrete stilts, which causes the building’s underside to loom over congress street and the unfortunate security guards who work there.”

Courtney P. from Boston, MA: “This building is just ugly.  With architecture being one of my favorite parts of Boston, it’s so disappointing that this building is City Hall.  Please consider building something else!”

What do you think of Boston City Hall? Let’s hear your thoughts.

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, But Destroying Art Will Always Hurt Me

In reference to his site specific work Tilted Arc in New York City, Minimalist artist Richard Serra stated in an interview with The New York Times that “to remove the work is to destroy the work.[1]” In the early eighties, Tilted Arc was at the center of a controversy that eventually led the government to dismantle and tank it.

Tilted Arc, Richard Serra, 1981, sculpture, steel, New York City (destroyed). Photo © 1985 David Aschkenas.

This past summer, I caught Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was struck by one drawing in particular titled “The United States Government Destroys Art (1989).” The drawing, part of the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Collection, is made using paintstick on two sheets of paper arranged to form a slit at the center.

RICHARD SERRA. The United States Government Destroys Art, 1989. Paintstick on two sheets of paper; 113 x 215 ¼ inches. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Like much of Serra’s drawings, when the drawing above is experienced in person and up-close, it looms over the viewer, it makes us aware of ourselves and of the space we’re in.  Because these drawings are different shades of black with varying degrees of textures, they provoke an intense palpable feeling that lingers on forever.

From left, works from 1989: “The United States Courts Are Partial to the Government,” “No Mandatory Patriotism” (center) and “The United States Government Destroys Art.” Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times. Installation view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Just like with Serra’s Tilted Arc, a similar battle has been unfolding in Downtown Hartford, Connecticut since the late seventies. Steps away from the Wadsworth Athenaeum, is Carl Andre’s Field Stone Sculpture (1977), another site-specific “earthwork” threatened with insensitive changes like the removal and the rearranging of some of its components.

Aerial photo of Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture (1977) in Hartford, CT

The sculpture comprises of 36 boulders arranged on a triangular parcel of land bordered by Main Street, Gold Street and the Ancient Burying Grounds. The stones are all local and are positioned on the ground without looking like much intervention happened. This is the point of many of the works born out of the Environmental and Site-Specific Art movement that emerged in the 1960′s. The works of this movement were made accessible to everyone and often encouraged public interaction. Field Stone Sculpture is accessible by everyone and encourages user interaction.

Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture (1977) in Hartford, CT. Photo Credit: Anulfo Baez

Field Stone Sculpture has not survived without polemics. Very much under appreciated by the people of Hartford, the work is seen by many as a testament to the power of time, and by others as a field of “rocks.” Do the people of Hartford not know that this is Carl Andre’s largest work and only public commission?

On a recent fall trip to Hartford, I spent time exploring the adjacent historic burying ground and contemplating the stillness that surrounds Field Stone Sculpture.

Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture (1977) in Hartford, CT. Photo Credit: Anulfo Baez

In spite of the hustle and bustle of Downtown Hartford, the siting of the work, the scale and arrangement of the boulders on the land allowed my mind to wander around freely. Field Stone Sculpture could not fit in more perfectly in this location. The handsome Colonial Revival buildings that surround it and the nearby parks designed by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted create a wonderful “natural” and man-made contrast in this section of Hartford.

On October 30, 1963 an editorial in The New York Times lamented the terrible loss of New York’s Pennsylvania Station, a grand Beaux Arts building designed by the prestigious firm of McKim, Mead and White. “…we will probably be judge not by the monuments we build, but by those we have destroyed” were the words that have now shaped the current preservation movement. Should Field Stone Sculpture in the near future suffer the same fate of Tilted Arc, Penn Station and countless other long lost monuments, Harftord will not be judge by the monuments it will builds, but by those it has destroyed.

It would be a terrible shame to alter Field Stone Sculpture because by simply altering it, would be to destroy it.


[1] Grace Glueck, “What Part Should the Public Play in Choosing Public Art?” New York Times, February 3, 1985, 27.

Documenting Boston’s Murals: What They Say and How They Say It

Documenting Boston’s Murals: What They Say and How They Say It, a short essay written for the Boston Society of Architects on my attempts at documenting every extant mural in the City of Boston.

Boston’s Oldest Remaining Fire House Gets a Facelift

The Eustis Street Firehouse in the Summer of 2010. Photo Credit: Anulfo Baez.

Boston’s oldest remaining fire house; the Eustis Street Fire House in Roxbury has been fully restored and is now the headquarters for Historic Boston Incorporated. Built in 1859, the 2 ½ story, brick Italianate Style building was designed by the Roxbury architect John Roulestone Hall. A wood addition was added to the rear in 1869.

The fire house remained vacant for more than 40 years, but thanks to the vision of Historic Boston Incorporated, a preservation organization in the city; the building was bought, restored and re-purposed as their headquarters. Not only has this important piece of Boston history been preserved, but it has also been breathing new life to Dudley Square. Let’s hope this is just the beginning in the revitalization efforts of the other “heart” of Boston.

Eustis Street Firehouse in 2011. Photo credit: Boston Fire Historical Society

Anonymous Boston

Photo Courtesy of Joanna Marinova Jones

The last time I saw an exhibition that literally made me tremble was at the Institute of Contemporary Art during the Mark Bradford show (November 19, 2010 – March 13, 2011). This time around, it wasn’t Bradford that almost moved me to tears, but rather an exhibition at Fourth Wall Project on social justice and gun violence in Boston. Words could not even begin to describe the emotions I felt as I read every wall text, looked at every photograph and listened to the desperate pleas of families (a haunting audio piece was part of the show) in Anonymous Boston a multimedia exhibit that focused on life, rather than the devastating effects of gun violence.

Organized by media producer and human rights activist Joanna Marinova Jones, Anonymous Boston directly and indirectly brought to light many issues that have long been ignored by public officials, and people not directly affected by gun violence. Anonymous Boston aimed at empowering those families who have experienced devastating losses—by giving them a voice with which to tear down the derogatory comments left behind by anonymous bloggers on online news articles.

Newspaper clippings with stories on the victims made this exhibition not only interesting, but relevant on so many levels. The headlines are nothing short of sensational, they nurture the anonymous monsters that leave tactless comments that hurt victim’s families.

Fueled by the insensitive, inaccurate and superficial media coverage of violence in Boston, these anonymous bloggers further exacerbate the situation by relentlessly attacking not only grieving families, but an entire race. Their comments, some of which I have quoted above, are difficult to stomach.

It’s much easier to ignore the issue or point fingers and blame the victim’s family, rather than to take a stand to stop gun violence. It is also much easier to say “if it is not happening to me, then it’s not my problem— why should I care about all the violence that is destroying your community?”

Photo Courtesy of Joanna Marinova Jones

What happens in Boston is everyone’s responsibility. I could not help but feel mentally drained and spiritually devastated, but always remaining hopeful—as I was confronted with blatantly racist and ignorant comments left by these bloggers next to a victim’s photograph. It’s easy to hide behind a veil rather than to discuss the real underlying issues as to why these things are happening in our city.

To say that what happens in Roxbury, Dorchester or Mattapan isn’t my problem— is to be part of the problem, as a family member of one of the victims in Anonymous Boston was quoted saying.

Anonymous Boston communicated a powerful message and I sincerely hope that those who experienced it listened. Gun violence is the product of complex cultural issues. We as a culture are obsessed with guns and yet we wonder why there is so much senseless violence in this country. My only regret was not being able to experience this exhibition more than once, as I went on the second to last day before closing. 

All other uncredited images are by Anulfo Baez.

Summer 2011 – The Potential “Death” of Modernism

UPDATE: THE WHEATLEY SCHOOL WAS DEMOLISHED ON JUNE 17, 2011.

 

This past March I blogged about the Phyllis Wheatley School in New Orleans which is under the threat of demolition. I feel compelled to share a wonderful short documentary by Evan Mather which highlights the architectural and cultural significance of the Wheatley School, because I care enough about modern architecture to ignore the fact this is a Boston centric blog.

Another important piece of modern architecture under the threat of a possible demolition this summer is Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital for Women in Chicago, IL. If you did not know, there is a connection between Prentice Hospital in Chicago and the city of Boston, in that Goldberg had attended Harvard University and opened a branch of his design office here in 1964. Learn about the architect’s project here in Boston.

Can We Save the Wheatley Elementary School in NOLA?

The Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. 2300 Dumaine St. New Orleans, LA Charles Colbert, architect. Frank Lotz Miller, photographer Idea: The Shaping Force. Photo Source: Flickr regional.modernism. Used under the Creative Commons License.

“If you tear down my school, a part of me dies with it,” were the words of Phyllis Montana-Leblanc before the Historic District Landmarks Commission of New Orleans at a hearing concerning the historic modern Phillis Wheatley Elementary School in New Orleans.

How could one not be emotionally affected upon reading these words? I am always affected upon learning that a historic building that is worth saving, is facing the wrecking ball.

The Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. 2300 Dumaine St. New Orleans,Frank Lotz Miller, photographer Idea: The Shaping Force. Photo Source: Flickr regional.modernism. LA Charles Colbert, architect;

I’ve known of the Phillis Wheatley Elementary School issue for some time now and felt compelled to dedicate a post on this Boston centric blog to shed some light on the issue of modern architecture in New Orleans and throughout the United States. The school was listed on the World Monuments Fund Watch in 2010 and is considered to be one of the top ten most significant Modern buildings in Louisiana.

Modernist buildings are in peril and before we realize, some of the best and most outstanding examples of modern architecture will be lost to demolition. This would just be detrimental to our culture and history.

I signed the petition. Will you JOIN ME?

Can Twitter Save this House?

Copyright © Preservation Massachusetts. Used under the Creative Commons License.

UPDATE: This house has been demolished. We fought a good battle, unfortunately, we lost it. Read more here:

 

In the last few weeks and days, we’ve witnessed the power of Twitter and other social media outlets in spreading democracy to many parts of the world. I didn’t really believe much in Twitter because I didn’t understand how it worked, but now that I do, I believe that Twitter and those who use it have the power to influence people and make change happen.

How cool would it be to use Twitter to not only promote our cultural heritage, but to also save it. Could social media be the next most effective tool in preservation advocacy? Have you ever heard of the power of ten? That is, I get ten friends to give ten dollars towards a cause. Each of those ten friends then asks ten of their friends to give ten dollars towards the same cause. The cycle continues. If you subscribe to my blog could you forward this post to ten of your friends? Who knows, maybe we’ll find someone who is interested in preserving our cultural heritage by halting the demolition of this house:

The house is a 1780 Federal-style house in Dudley, Massachusetts and was home of Abiel “Priest” Williams, who was a minister in Dudley for 32 years. The house is historically and architecturally significant and was once considered “one of the most magnificent dwellings in Federalist Dudley” according to the Dudley Historical Commission. The current owners are willing to sell the house for $1 to anyone willing to relocate it, but if no one buys it, then it will fall to the wrecking ball and that would be really sad. Who do you know that may help save this house? The house was listed in 2010 as one of the Most Endangered Historic Resources in the state of Massachusetts by the statewide preservation organization; Preservation Massachusetts. That says a lot about this resource.

More information here and here and here.