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.”-  Right on Sir! Right on!

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”.  Well said, dear sir!  Well said.”

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!” – Say it ain’t so, Courtney!

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

It’s a Mad, Mad, World: Liquor Advertisements from the 1950′s

Last week I stumbled upon a sale of vintage New Yorker magazines at the Brattle Book Shop on West Street in Downtown Crossing. Intrigued by the advertisements, I purchased 20 random issues from the 1950’s with the goal of scanning some of its pages and using the advertisements for future blog posts.

Given the popularity of Mad Men (I’ve never seen the show, although I’ve promised many friends I will start watching it soon) everything and anything that is 50’s and 60’s is very much sought after today. I’ll be the first one to admit it, I am a fanatic of the design and fashion produced in decade of the fifties and sixties in America.  I love mixing fifties and sixties fashion pieces with more contemporary ones and spending countless hours in flea markets and thrift stores searching for that one item someone considered trash, yet to me it’s a treasure (like a 1960’s typewriter designed by Marcello Nizzoli I got for $2! And yes, it works just fine and looks great too)!

This past Sunday I visited the Museum of Art at the Rhode Island School of Design to experience an exhibition everyone has been raving about: Cocktail Culture: Ritual and Invention in American Fashion, 1920-1980. This fantastic exhibition explores every aspect of the culture surrounding the cocktail through a variety of media including fashion, jewelry, furniture, barware, textiles, photography and film. If you are in New England, please do not miss this exhibition!

Although cocktail culture today is not as popular as it was in the 1920’s through the 1980’s, classic cocktail bars are definitely making a comeback. 

Advertising is the focus of Mad Men, but again so are the cocktails. Here are a few, mostly full page liquor advertisements I scanned from mid-century New Yorker magazines.

Do you have any favorites? Why? You can click on each image to enlarge it.

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?

Life, as expressed by Max Beckmann

Max Beckmann, German, 1884–1950, Double Portrait 1946, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Accession Number 1989.348

A series of posts inspired by pieces in the collections of Boston area museums.

 

In 1938, in a lecture at the New Burlington Gallery in London, the German painter Max Beckmann said that “life is difficult, as perhaps everyone knows by now[1].” The difficulties of life, the powerful emotions of fear and anxiety, and the hopeless feeling that captures the soul, are all psychological traits present in the works of Max Beckmann and the artists of the Expressionist Movement, particularly The New Objectivity (neue sachlichkeit). The New Objectivity proposed a return to naturalism in painting and was in opposition to the obscure images of Expressionism.[2] Double Portrait (1946), at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston captures the social realities and the chaos of modern life; it pierces the viewer’s hearts and paints a world full of solitude while simultaneously offering a glimpse of hope for a better tomorrow.

Beckmann chooses as his subject matter two men, Hanns Swarzenski, a scholar of medieval art and curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and Curt Valentin, a New York art dealer. Both friends of Beckmann, these two men have played a vital role in the development of Beckmann as artist. Engaged in a conversation, Swarzenski and Valentin, are both depicted wearing business attire, a detail that speaks of the distinguished backgrounds these two men come from. Double Portrait expresses to the fullest extent, “the power of [Beckmann’s] imagination[3]” since both of these subjects were not present in the same room for the painting, but it emphasizes the power of friendships in a time of crisis (such as the aftermath of World War II).

The composition of Double Portrait also plays a key role in expressing the context during which this painting was created. Beckmann places both figures diagonally in between an object that appears to be a table and an ambiguous window-like feature or mural showing a slight recession into space. The sharp angles of the object directs the viewer’s eye to Curt Valentin who holds a candle,  which further brings the eye to the figure of Hanns Swarzenski, who holds an Old Fashioned Glass. The placement of both of these figures on the canvas suggests a world in which oppression reigns, dreams are crushed and hope remains for those who long for better and peaceful times.

The world outside of this opening is a physically and psychologically cruel one, suggesting that the only life that is worth living, are the lives of Beckmann’s two friends; Hanns and Curt. With its somber shades of grey juxtaposed with the dark, oppressive (but yet seductive) colors of the interior space in which the two figures are placed, Beckmann expresses the uncertainties of the times as well as his psychological state of mind.

The physical and spiritual destruction of humanity, including the atrocities caused by World War II are emphasized by the hues of deep blues, purples, and black accentuated with splotches of green, red, gray and orange. Beckmann said in his lecture at the New Burlington Gallery, that “it is the dream of many to see only the white and truly beautiful, or the black, ugly and destructive. But I cannot help realizing both, for only in the two, only in black and in white, can I see God as a unity creating again and again a great and eternally changing terrestrial drama[4].”

The difficulties of life, the powerful emotions of fear and anxiety, and the hopeless feeling that detains the soul are all captured in Beckmann’s Double Portrait of 1946. The subject matter Beckmann chose to represent in Double Portrait speaks to the power of friendships in a time of crisis while the composition serves as a testament to the cruel realities of war and the oppression it forces upon humanity.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has a few amazing pieces by Beckmann. This one is currently on view.


[1] Herschel B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1968), 189

[2] Tony Richardson and Nikos Stangos, ed. Concepts of Modern Art (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), 48

[3] Ibid., 48

[4] Herschel B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1968), 188

31 in 31 of Your Favorite Buildings in Boston: #9

Boston City Hall, One City Hall Square, Boston, MA 02201

Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles with Campbell, Aldrich, and Nulty, 1961-1968.

I was inspired to highlight 31 buildings in Boston in 31 days after the architecture blog A Daily Dose of Architecture . Not only was I going to highlight 31 buildings, but 31 of Bostonian’s favorite buildings. This is the series.

About Boston City Hall:

Love it or hate it, Boston City Hall is truly one of the greatest buildings of our time! It has been called a monster, “the ugliest building in Boston,” “the ugliest Brutalist building in the world” and so on, but this building is as heroic as any other building built in and around its time. Yes, it has its problems, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be fixed!

I love this building myself. I think it says alot about Boston and Bostonians in general and it was also the building that placed Boston back on the architecture world map! I am very passionate about it as are many preservationists and Modern architecture enthusiasts. I’ve blogged about this building a few times, you can read one of my posts here.

How do you feel about Boston’s City Hall? Do you think the building is the monster it is made out to be? Have you ever been inside? Any thoughts?

Boston City Hall, Rear facing Faneuil Hall. Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey

Boston City Hall, Interior, Photo: Historic American Buildings Survey

Modernism and Recent Past in Providence: A Self Guided Walking Tour

When I lived in Providence, I spent countless hours working on my landscape architecture studio classes at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) that I barely noticed the buildings around me. I ate, breathed and dreamed landscape architecture.  Although I dropped out of RISD for personal reasons, I cherished the short time I spent working with the excellent faculty and classmates in the Department of Landscape Architecture.

Last weekend, I retraced my steps around the Brown University and RISD campuses to experience once again, the architecture I had almost forgotten. On this day trip to Providence I went on a self guided walking tour of Modernist and Recent Past architecture created by Sara Emmenecker, a Public Humanities Graduate student at Brown University. I’m fascinated with the study of Modernism and love learning about and exploring modern architectural resources in New England. To learn more about this wonderful project created by Sara click here and head to Providence and explore the city’s modern architectural resources.

* On a side note, since February of 2010 I have been following agingmodernism.wordpress.com, a project by U.C Berkeley student Melissa K. Smith which aims at documenting the way people adapt, shift and change the modern city experiments of the mid-century. Check her blog out on and be inspired!

Hospital Trust Tower (1973) 25 Westminster Street/One Financial Plaza. Designed by John Carl Warnecke & Associates in the International Style.

Fleet Center (1985) 50 Kennedy Plaza, designed by Helmut Obata Kassebaum Architects. Post Modern Style

Old Stone Tower (1969), 40 Westminster Street. Designed by Shreve Lamb & Harmon

Beneficient House (1969), 1 Chestnut Street. Designed by Paul Rudolph.

J. Joseph Garrahy Judicial Complex (1981), One Dorrance Plaza. Designed by Robinson, Green & Beretta

Dexter Manor (1962), 100 Broad Street. Based on the ideas of Le Corbusier who proposed his "Contemporary City for Three Million Inhabitants." Many examples of high rise apartment buildings are seen in almost any city in the world.

Cathedral Square Complex (1966-67, 1969, 1977, 1975). The Plaza was designed by I.M Pei and Zion & Breen. The Roman Catholic Chancery Office and Auditorium was designed by E.F. Kennedy, 4 and 5 Cathedral Square were designed by Robinson, Green & Beretta architects. Please consult the walking tour guide for more information on this complex of buildings.

Cathedral Square Complex (1966-67, 1969, 1977, 1975). The Plaza was designed by I.M Pei and Zion & Breen. The Roman Catholic Chancery Office and Auditorium was designed by E.F. Kennedy, 4 and 5 Cathedral Square were designed by Robinson, Green & Beretta architects. Please consult the walking tour guide for more information on this complex of buildings.

Cathedral Square Complex (1966-67, 1969, 1977, 1975). The Plaza was designed by I.M Pei and Zion & Breen. The Roman Catholic Chancery Office and Auditorium was designed by E.F. Kennedy, 4 and 5 Cathedral Square were designed by Robinson, Green & Beretta architects. Please consult the walking tour guide for more information on this complex of buildings.

Cathedral Square Complex (1966-67, 1969, 1977, 1975). The Plaza was designed by I.M Pei and Zion & Breen. The Roman Catholic Chancery Office and Auditorium was designed by E.F. Kennedy, 4 and 5 Cathedral Square were designed by Robinson, Green & Beretta architects. Please consult the walking tour guide for more information on this complex of buildings.

Cathedral Square Complex (1966-67, 1969, 1977, 1975). The Plaza was designed by I.M Pei and Zion & Breen. The Roman Catholic Chancery Office and Auditorium was designed by E.F. Kennedy, 4 and 5 Cathedral Square were designed by Robinson, Green & Beretta architects. Please consult the walking tour guide for more information on this complex of buildings.

Cathedral Square Complex (1966-67, 1969, 1977, 1975). The Plaza was designed by I.M Pei and Zion & Breen. The Roman Catholic Chancery Office and Auditorium was designed by E.F. Kennedy, 4 and 5 Cathedral Square were designed by Robinson, Green & Beretta architects. Please consult the walking tour guide for more information on this complex of buildings.

The Providence Public Library Addition (1953), 150 Empire Street. The additon was designed by Howe, Prout & Ekman. The Providence Public Library is one of the most gorgeous buildings in Providence designed in the Italian Renaissance style with Baroque qualities. The addition is done in the Moderne style.

John E. Fogarty Memorial Building (1968), 111 Fountain Street. Designed by Castellicci, Galli & Planka architects. Notice the influence of Boston City Hall in the forms of this building which is currently vacant and in a state of disrepair.

John E. Fogarty Memorial Building (1968), 111 Fountain Street. Designed by Castellicci, Galli & Planka architects. Notice the influence of Boston City Hall in the forms of this building which is currently vacant and in a state of disrepair.

John E. Fogarty Memorial Building (1968), 111 Fountain Street. Designed by Castellicci, Galli & Planka architects. Notice the influence of Boston City Hall in the forms of this building which is currently vacant and in a state of disrepair.

A Modern building on South Main Street, 1 block from the Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at RISD. More information will be posted soon.

A Modern building on South Main Street, 1 block from the Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at RISD. More information will be posted soon.

Memories of Modernism

Christian Science Monitor Plaza and Fountain, photo taken by John Michael Garcia.

Looking back to my years growing up in the Dominican Republic, I can vividly recall the memories of the sights, sounds and smells that shaped me as a child.  As young as I was when I left my country to join my parents in the United States, the power of the places I experienced have molded me into a passionate advocate for the preservation of history and architecture.

My first few years living in this country were extremely difficult. Everything felt strange, from the language and culture to the weather and food.  However, with time, I managed not only to adapt to this new land, but also keep my childhood memories alive. Growing up in Boston allowed me to witness firsthand many changes that were taking place in the city, all leaving a powerful impression on me.

One of my first experiences interacting with architecture in the city occurred on a field trip as a student at the Hurley Elementary School in the South End.  On our way back to school from the Mapparium located inside the Mary Baker Eddy Library; founder of Christian Science, my classmates and I strolled around the iconic modernist space and jumped into the fountain to cool off from the scorching summer sun.

That was my introduction to Modernism. I have never been able to forget how emotionally intense and powerful this experience was.  One, it happened just a few months after leaving the little rural town I was born in and two, I had never seen an enormous pool nor a fountain where kids ran around and played in. The moment was magical, so magical and powerful I often see myself reflected in the lives of the kids who play in this space today.

According to Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place, “[memory] is the key to the power of historic places to help citizens define their public pasts: places trigger memories for insiders who have shared a common past, and at the same time places often can represent shared pasts to outsiders who might be interested in knowing about them in the present” (46). Places have the ability to evoke visual and social memory and the Christian Science Center Complex along with its reflection pool and fountain has not only formulated my understanding and appreciation for Modern architecture today, but was my first introduction to the power of modernism and the role it plays in our lives (of course, this statement I only realized a few years ago while studying art and architectural history in college).

Photo taken by John Michael Garcia

The Plaza is truly one of Boston’s grandest spaces and the emotional attachment I feel is also felt by many friends and colleagues. When hearing of the possible fate of the Plaza, a friend of mine also traveled down memory lane to the days when he was a child playing in the fountain.  I sensed the beginning of an emotional void as he perhaps contemplated on the future of this site, a future which everyday seems more uncertain to me and hundreds of people. Designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark will assure that memories are kept alive for many generations of Bostonians whose lives have been touched by this Complex.

Memories last a lifetime.  Not designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark is an opportunity to shatter the dreams and memories of those who have experience the magic of the reflection pool, the fountain and its buildings.

If you’re reading this and you have also been touched by the Christian Science Complex, I urge you to send a letter to the Boston Landmarks Commission advocating for the designation of the Complex as a Boston Landmark.

To learn more, you can view the study report here.

You can send your letter of support or comments by August 16th, 2010 to this address:

The Boston Landmarks Commission voted to designate the Christian Science Monitor Plaza as a Boston Landmark! Thank you!!!!

Trusting Modernism

20th century Modern buildings are not exactly what people think of when they think of New England, yet amidst its colonial architecture, the landscape of New England is dotted with spectacular architectural examples of regional Modernism. On Wednesday June 30, 2010, architects, preservationists, landscape and architectural historians, students and modernism enthusiasts convened at Paul Rudolph’s addition to the First Church in Boston’s Back Bay to engage in conversations focusing on Modernism in Greater Boston. Trust Modern, an initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Modernism + Recent Past Program, selected  the City of Boston as one of four cities to be part of the Modern Module Program aimed at increasing public support for and engaging in discussions focused on the study and protection of America’s modern architectural resources.

 According to Susan MacDonald of The Getty Conservation Institute and a panelist at the Boston Modern: The Spirit of Reinvention module “modernism tells the story of change, a story with the goal of creating a better world with equal access to healthcare and education.”  Selling the story of modernism has proven to be one of the biggest challenges facing preservationists and architectural historians today, a challenge that becomes more difficult as more and more Modern buildings and landscapes fall to the wrecking ball. Engaging in conversations like the one at the modern module is key to taking a proactive role in preserving modernism.

The city has taken a proactive step in the preservation of modern architecture. The Boston Landmarks Commission has been conducting an inventory of 20th century buildings and local preservation organizations have been leading tours of modern buildings in Downtown further introducing modernism to the general public.

Boston is home to some mighty and heroic modern buildings which speak to the legacy of notable architects like Walter Gropius, Eero Saarinen, Jose Luis Sert, Le Corbusier, Eleanor Raymond and many others who have all left their mark on this grand city. The opportunity for young people to become more involved in the preservation of modern architecture is wide open and ready to be explored in depth!  

The module on Boston’s modernist architecture proved to be intellectually stimulating thought provoking and inspiring. With over 300 attendees, my hope is that each one of us present on Wednesday night will in turn educate others on the value and significance of the city’s modern architectural resources before it’s too late to save our recent past.

Contemplating Modernism

The Glass House, Philip Johnson. Completed in 1949.

Recently, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City organized an exhibition titled “Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum” which exhibited the works of nearly two hundred invited artists, architects, and designers to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Modernist masterpiece. Most importantly, these artists were celebrating the void which has influenced countless of site specific art installations at the Guggenheim.

Like the artists, architects and designers who contemplated the void at the Guggenheim, a year ago I boarded a bus from Boston to Stamford, CT where I would catch a train to New Canaan, CT to contemplate  one of the most important icons of Modern architecture: the Philip Johnson Glass House.  After the long and exhausting bus ride (which was late to Stamford by the way), I missed my train to New Canaan and with less than 40 minutes until the beginning of my two hour tour of the House, I hopped on a 30 minute taxi ride to New Canaan (the next train to New Canaan did not leave until 2:45PM and my tour was scheduled for 2:00PM). I made it to the visitor center in downtown New Canaan with just ten minutes to spare! Phew! What a relief!

The Painting Gallery, completed in 1965.

Visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House proved to be an exhilarating experience in my exploration of Modern architecture. The tour was well organized and the guide was very knowledgeable on modernism, in particular on Modern Art as she was an artist herself.  At a cost of $45 for a two hour tour with photography allowed, I not only got to see the Glass House, but Johnson’s other architectural experiments in the 47 acre property surrounding the house. One of my favorites was the Painting Gallery which recalls the Treasury of Atreus (Mycenae) in its entrance, but nothing quite like it in the interior (judging from what the interior of the Treasury of Atreus looks like today as it may have been completely different around 1250BCE when it was constructed). Its soft and “sexy” interior and floor plan are visually stunning in contrast to the fortress like exterior of the Gallery.

Inside the Painting Gallery. Works by Frank Stella.

The connection between this blog on Boston, the Glass House in New Canaan and Philip Johnson is that Johnson had attended Harvard University graduating with a Bachelor’s in Architecture in 1943. While a student at Harvard he designed his own house now located in Cambridge, MA and his presence as an architect in the city of Boston is seen in the addition to the Boston Public Library and at 500 Boylston Street (the Post-Modern Palladian inspired skyscraper) which was featured on the television drama series Boston Legal.

As a student of life, art and architecture, a preservationist and a lover of Modern architecture, visiting the Glass House was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Being in New Canaan was all I needed to take my breath away last summer let alone visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House.

(If someone knows or has a connection to the current owners of the Johnson house in Cambridge, please let me know! I’d love to see it up close instead of climbing up the stairs of the building across from it to get a peek).

The Lake Pavillion completed in 1962.

Boston’s Love Affair with Art Deco

The Art Deco style in Boston never did flourished as it did in cities like New York, Tulsa and Miami, Florida, yet Boston has some excellent examples of the style. What remains today must be protected and preserved for they illustrate the history of the people of Boston.

More than any other architectural style, Art Deco celebrates the triumph of architecture, industrialism and commercialism. Below are some details of some of Boston’s most beloved Art Deco masterpieces.

For a sumptuous view of an Art Deco interior, visit Trinity Church on Copley Square and spend a few minutes admiring the 1938 re-decoration of the chancel by the prestigious architectural firm of Magginis and Walsh.

By any means, this is not a listing of every Art Deco building in the city, but a few details to spark interest in the style. To learn more about the city’s Art Deco architecture, visit the Art Deco Society of Boston’s website.

The Landmark AKA United Shoe Machinery Building, one of the city's most gorgeous buildings

The Landmark AKA United Shoe Machinery Building, one of the city's most gorgeous buildings

The Landmark AKA United Shoe Machinery Building, one of the city's most gorgeous buildings

New England Telephone & Telegraph Company on 185 Franklin Street (Also owned by Verizon)

The New England Telegraph and Telephone Company Building on Cambridge Street, occupied by Verizon.

The New England Telegraph and Telephone Company Building, now occupied by Verizon.

One of my favorites in the city, the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company on Cambridge Street.

Detail of the beautiful Shreve, Crump and Lowe Building.

New York City vs. Boston

The Macallen Building, South Boston, Architect: Office dA

Recently, the Boston Herald published a list of the top ten best new buildings of the decade in the city. These buildings break away from the typical brick and brownstone architecture that canvas most of Boston. Architecturally speaking, Boston has yet to distance itself from the puritanical and conservative ideals deeply rooted in its history. Looking at the past for architectural inspiration has allowed Boston to achieve limited freedom in creativity.  The buildings on the list have been praised for pushing Boston out of its conservative architectural envelope and redefined the world class city that it is!

The Macallen Building, South Boston. Architect: Office dA

Boston has never been able to get out of the shadows of New York City and the list proves that the rivalry between these two world class cities is alive and stronger than ever. It is not a secret how much Yankee fans and Red Sox fans love each other. They can barely wait for baseball season to begin to call each other names and brag about which team has won the most World Series. Wait, what am I talking about?! These fans will harrass each other regardless whether is baseball season or not. If you ask me to chose a team, I prefer the Red Sox, but if you ask my brother, he prefers the Yankees! One can never win. This love hate relationship between these two cities is captured in the list of the top ten best new buildings in Boston. By my count, Boston wins with 5 Boston/Cambridge architectural firms making a name for themselves, while placing the city at the forefront of the architecture world.

The WGBH Headquarter Building, Brighton. Architect: Polshek Partnership

Office dA, one of my favorite Boston firms makes the list with the Macallen Building in South Boston. Considered one of the first LEED-certified, environmentally conscious multi-housing buildings in the state of Massachusetts, the Macallen Building stands out for all the right reasons and the city is a much better place because of it.  The building was recently honored by the American Society of Landscape Architects with a 2009 Professional Design Award. The partners at Office dA, Monica Ponce de Leon and Nader Tehrani proved that Boston possesses the talent and genius to award architectural commissions to local firms, instead of inviting architects from Los Angeles, New York City or from abroad to leave their imprint on the city.

The Boston Convention and Visitor Center, South Boston. Architect: Rafael Viñoly

Among the New York City firms on the  Herald’s list include Rafael Viñoly for his design of the Boston Convention and Visitor Center in South Boston, Diller Scofidio + Renfro for the boxy Institute of Contemporary Art also in South Boston and Polshek Partnership for the WGBH Building in Brighton. And yes, I do prefer the Boston architects over New York because they are excellent examples of what our local talent is capable of producing, but the New York architects (and I hate to say this), placed Boston on the international map this past decade with buildings like the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Boston Convention and Visitor Center.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, South Boston. Architect: diller scofidio + renfro

Although New York pushed the architectural envelope in Boston, the building that always captivates me is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Stata Center by the Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry. To borrow a word used recently by the Chicago Sun Times film critic Roger Ebert in his critique of Broken Embraces by Pedro Almodovar,  Gehry’s 2004 Stata Center is a “voluptuary” of a building. Its textures, materials, colors, and soft sexy curves punctuated by geometric shapes and hard edges are a reflection of yours truly. No, not in the soft sexy curves (in case you wanted to know), but in the multitude of colors and textures that make up my daily wardrobe! The Stata Center is a building that keeps me engage, it makes me feel like a kid in a candy store, excited and hyper, waiting to indulge my senses in all the sugar. It makes me want to hug every one of its shiny surfaces and scream to the world the audacious and bold step Boston has taken forward with this building.

In all fairness, New York architects have been dramatically influencing the architectural fabric of Boston for decades. The prestigious firm of Carrere and Hastings, McKim, Mead and White and even H.H. Richardson have all left their mark in Boston, designing buildings like the Boston Public Library and Trinity Church, which have served as sources for countless other buildings around the country. The New York architectural firms who left their mark in Boston this past decade have broken the barriers of creativity in Boston!

As groundbreaking as any of these buildings were during the last decade, there were two other notable buildings that did not make the list, but which deserved to be mentioned in this post. So here I go, take note.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stata Center, Cambridge. Architect: Frank Gehry

Simmons Hall at MIT by Steven Holl, one of my favorite New York firms, stands out for being a building that belongs in New York or Los Angeles and not in Boston.  It breaks away from the puritanical and conservative ideals associated with Boston architecture, adding a funky, cool sophisticated feeling to the fabric of Massachusetts.

The other building that deserved to be listed is the Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library, designed by the Boston architects of Machado and Silvetti. Distancing themselves from the brick so typical of Boston architecture, Machado and Silvetti incorporate slate sculpings and slate shingles with glass and various other rich textures creating a visually enticing building in one of Boston’s most culturally diverse neighborhoods.

To see other buildings on the list, click on the link above and let me know which ones you think deserved to be listed and which ones were omitted!

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Simmons Hall, Cambridge. Architect: Steven Holl

Thank You Paul Goldberger!

Being a tour guide at Trinity Church has its many perks. However, becoming one is a grueling and arduous, but intellectually rewarding journey.  Trinity’s docent undergo a 10 week training course during which one is expected to master the art and architectural history of one of America’s most beloved buildings. Surrounded by H.H. Richardson’s massive Romanesque interior, John Lafarge’s awe inspiring murals, and some of the country’s finest stained glass windows, one of my life long dreams came true on Wednesday November 18, 2009.

Pulitzer Prize winning critic Paul Goldberger, former architectural critic for The New York Times and author of several books including On the Rise: Architecture and Design in a Post-Modern Age and the latest Why Architecture Matters elated (at least I was ecstatic) an audience over 100 people with a lecture titled Architecture, Spirituality and the Challenge of Modernism. Goldberger spoke of the sacred and how it relates to modern architecture and relied on Trinity Church several times  as an example of a building that is “fresh and vibrant [which] transcends our normal sense of time.”

According to Goldberger, architecture must express what is not material, that is, the idea of God. This must be achieved by using the physical to express the transcending. At Trinity Church, Richardson was able to create a work of art by inventing new ways for buildings to inspire and move us. It is a space where time loses its fleeting momentum and grounds each and every one of us who experience its seductive and sumptuous interior.  What architecture has done is to establish a connection between everyday life and the sacred.  Who are we to say that Saarinen’s 1954 Kresge Chapel at MIT, or Safdie’s Class of 1959 Chapel at Harvard Business School or Le Corbusier’s Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp are not sacred places? In the end, what makes a space sacred depends on who is feeling the experience. The same way we all experience a building, we can also be moved by it in different ways.

As to the challenges of modernism? Aesthetics have become indistinguishable from the sacred and as an example; Goldberger spoke of Kahn’s Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas as a model of how art institutions have become the emblems of cultural aspirations. These institutions have chosen to attract the beautiful rather than the divine (to illustrate this point, Goldberger questioned whether the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is considered a sacred place, to Mrs. Gardner it may have been, to others, it may just be another museum).

As a student and a professional, I have been delighted to meet and take classes with well respected scholars in the field of art and architectural history. Having attended this inspiring lecture by Paul Goldberger was not only a dream come true, but it gave me a reason to continue writing, learning and being a critic. Thank you Paul!

To Build a House

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The Gropius House

Last week I had an opportunity to tour the house Walter Gropius designed for himself in Lincoln, Massachusetts.  Fleeting from Nazi Germany, Gropius immigrated along with much of his personal belongings to Boston, a circumstance that eventually led him to become Professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and established the architectural firm The Architects Collaborative (TAC), which forever changed the story of Modern architecture in Boston.

Gropius became the founder and first director of the Bauhaus, one of the world’s most important and influential design schools established in 1919 in Weimar, Germany. The school takes its name from Bau meaning “to build” or “building” and haus meaning “house.” Having attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for a short period of time, I realized how much of an influence the Bauhaus had on other design schools in the world.

The curriculum at RISD and the Bauhaus share many similarities, including the “six month trial period” whereas those who were not “destined” to become true artists were weeded out of their respective program. Although I made it past the six month weeding out period and continued on to the winter session to take classes in film studies, I left RISD for personal reasons, but enough about me, and let’s learn more about the Bauhaus and the Gropius House in Lincoln.

Teachers at the Bauhaus consisted of masters like Wassily Kandinsky, Joseph Albers, Lyonel Feininger, Johannes Itten, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Paul Klee, Marianne Brandt and Marcel Breuer among others. Its principles were drawn from the Arts and Crafts Movement, but whereas William Morris and his circle rejected the machine, the Bauhaus embraced it in order to provide everyone in society with access to art and good, affordable design. There is no such thing as a “Bauhaus style,” each and every one of the masters at the school encouraged the experimentation in all the arts.

The influence of the Bauhaus still resonates with us today. The furniture we see for sale in stores like Target, Walmart, Ikea and others have all been influenced by the school. The Gropiuses owned an important collection of furniture designed by Marcel Breuer, Saarinen, Aalto, Marianne Brandt and others. Some of the artwork was created by artists like Spanish Surrealist Joan Miro, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy (whom I’ve fallen in love with), Henry Moore and Ati Gropius Johansen; Walter’s daughter.

 This semester in my seminar on Boston Architecture, I have been learning that Massachusetts was a hot bed for Modernism. This was somewhat surprising to me because when I think of Modernism I think of New York City, California or the Midwest.  The Gropius House speaks to the eloquent vocabulary of modernism created in the New England region.  Lincoln is home to a few outstanding examples of Modernist houses as are the surrounding towns of Lexington, Arlington, Belmont and Cambridge. Sadly, these modernist treasures are threatened by demolition on a daily basis and as recent as last year, we lost an excellent modern house by Eleanor Raymond, one of Boston’s leading modern architects.

The house is owned by Historic New England  and is open to the public for tours.

A Modernist Walking Tour of the MIT Campus

The Campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is rich in Modern architecture. Some of the most innovative and respected Modernist architects left their mark on this prestigious campus. The following is a walking tour of MIT’s Modernist buildings adapted from Robert Bell Rettig’s Guide to Cambridge Architecture: 10 Walking Tours.
Eastgate, 1965, Eduardo Catalano

Eastgate, 1965, Eduardo Catalano

100 Memorial Drive, 1949, Brown, De Mars, Kennedy, Koch, Rapson – Groundbreaking designed which takes advantage of the riverfront site.

100 Memorial Drive, 1949, Brown, De Mars, Kennedy, Koch, Rapson – Groundbreaking designed which takes advantage of the riverfront site.

Hayden Library, 1949, Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith; Anderson & Beckwith

Hayden Library, 1949, Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith; Anderson & Beckwith

Baker House, 1947, Alvar Aalto, Perry, Shaw & Hepburn – one of Massachusetts’ most famous buildings designed by Finnish architect Aalto, along with Perry, Shaw and Hepburn most famous for the restoration of Colonial Williamsburgh. The interior of this building feels incredibly amazing, very sensitive to the needs of those who occupy it.

Baker House, 1947, Alvar Aalto, Perry, Shaw & Hepburn – one of Massachusetts’ most famous buildings designed by Finnish architect Aalto, along with Perry, Shaw and Hepburn most famous for the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. The interior of this building feels incredibly amazing, very sensitive to the needs of those who occupy it.

Baker House
Baker House
Kresge Auditorium, 1953, Eero Saarinen – a shell roof supported on three points. Truly spectacular.
Kresge Auditorium, 1953, Eero Saarinen – a shell roof supported on three points. Truly spectacular.

 

M.I.T Chapel, 1954, Eero Saarinen – a brick cylinder set in a moat. So private and intimate that one undergoes a religious experience once inside the building. Bell tower by Theodore Roszak, bronze screen in the interior by Harry Bertoia. This building represents the unity of all the arts!
M.I.T Chapel, 1954, Eero Saarinen – a brick cylinder set in a moat. So private and intimate that one undergoes a religious experience once inside the building. Bell tower by Theodore Roszak, bronze screen in the interior by Harry Bertoia. This building represents the unity of all the arts!

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Julia Adams Stratton Building, 1963, Eduardo Catalano – “hovering planes of concrete”

Julia Adams Stratton Building, 1963, Eduardo Catalano – “hovering planes of concrete”

Metals Processing Laboratory, 1950, Perry, Shaw, Hepburn & Dean – brick, what Rettig calls “dignified, if unexciting structure.”

Metals Processing Laboratory, 1950, Perry, Shaw, Hepburn & Dean – brick, what Rettig calls “dignified, if unexciting structure.”

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Rockwell Cage, 1947, Anderson & Beckwith – Glass walled, clear span stylish building by the “pioneers of Modern architecture at MIT.” This building recalls Peter Behrens A.E.G. High Tension Factory in Berlin, Germany from 1910.

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West Garage, 1963, Marvin E. Goody; Carlton N. Goff

West Garage, 1963, Marvin E. Goody; Carlton N. Goff

Karl T. Compton Laboratories, 1955, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (New York)

Karl T. Compton Laboratories, 1955, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (New York)

East Garage, 1960, Marvin E. Goody; Carleton N. Goff – helical ramp. There are a few outstanding garages by Goody and Goff remaining around Boston. Look for them.

East Garage, 1960, Marvin E. Goody; Carleton N. Goff – helical ramp. There are a few outstanding garages by Goody and Goff remaining around Boston. Look for them.

Green Building, 1964, I.M. Pei, MIT’s first high rise structure with a sculpture by Alexander Calder.
Green Building, 1964, I.M. Pei, MIT’s first high rise structure with a sculpture by Alexander Calder.