Apparently we're supposed to have an October heat-wave coming up here in Columbus...do I hear 70 degrees tomorrow? This is fantastic. If there is one thing I love it's autumn days that I don't have to fear the cold.
For my autumn quarter design studio, my professor is Ashley Schafer and the site of our project is in Boston. Specifically, the site is in South Boston on the Inner Harbor. In fact, if you're familiar with the site of Diller & Scofidio's ICA project, our site is basically right to the left. The picture of the ICA below is basically taken from the southern limits of of our site.
More on the project and site details later...
Two weekends ago our studio took a trip to Boston. The trip was both an opportunity to visit the site as well as various contemporary architecture pieces throughout the city.
I arrived on that Thursday afternoon around 1:30 pm. It was exciting, I had never been to Boston before and I always love experiencing the different cultures of big cities. Boston was no exception.
When I got off the plane, I quickly called my friend who is a student at the GSD at Harvard, and asked her how to get into the city from the airport. She was in studio at the time, and informed me that she would be until six in the evening or so. No problem. Time to explore.
I got on the pseudo-subway silver-line of the "T" and took this bus to South Station and transferred to the red-line. I got off at the Park Street Station, and upon emerging from the ground, I realized it was much colder here than I had anticipated. Immediately, I noticed the bold red line that was either painted or laid into the brick walkways depending on where you were. This red line is a path you can follow around the city in order to see all of the historical landmarks. I decided to walk on it for a moment until I noticed it was leading me to a group of men dressed at 18th century colonists waiting for tourists to pay them for a tour. Although I'm always very interested in the historical context and stories of places, I was hungry and in no mood for an hour-and-a-half walking tour with a faux-member of the Sons of Liberty.
So, I wandered.
Needing food, I managed to come across the greatest burrito joint ever. Yes, better than Chipotle.
Boloco is a local Boston chain that claims to have "inspired burritos." Well, I was inspired to eat, so I dove in. My choice of burrito was "The Summer" a fantastic blend of mango salsa, melted cheese, black beans, and lime rice. I added some white chicken, lettuce, sour cream, and tomato, and I was in heaven. So, Boloco, if you're reading this, bring the goods on over to the Mid-West.
From there, I was fortunate to find a public map next to a giant, monolithic, disproportionate mess of concrete. Later, I realized this block was the Boston City Hall. Yikes. On to Fenway...
Little did I know that the Red Sox were actually playing the Cleveland Indians that day, or I would have bought tickets. Instead, I just creeped around the outside of the ballpark and tried to peer in wherever I could. I love baseball, and I adore old ballparks. I remember watching a game in Tiger Stadium when I was younger, and it was such a rewarding experience. Seeing a game at Fenway is probably much more rewarding, so I'll have to go back. But ballparks like Fenway are such a dramatic change from how ballparks are built today. I don't know if it's the commercialization and focus on gift shops, etc. in today's parks or what it is, but I like how old parks still retain that great American Pastime.
Later, I met up with my good friend and we went to dinner at a fabulous colonial pub called John Harvard's Brew House. If you ever visit Harvard, you MUST go there. This brew house is a stellar place to hang out, drink a quality beer, and have a fantastic meal. As my friend said, it pretty much defines the idea that if you have to go underground to eat, it's going to be great. They only serve beer that they brew themselves. I suggest getting their sampler of five random beers. Each beer has a unique flavor and finishes so smoothly. I think my favorite of the sampler was the seasonal Oktoberfest.
The next morning began the studio tours. At 10:45 am we met at Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center, which is yet another staple in contemporary architecture in the States that has been tainted by the work of Charles Gwathmey. The other, of course, Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Although Corb's use of the ramp becomes slightly impractical in the ice and snow of Cambridge in the winter, his use of the ramp in this project is very effective. By walking through the ramp, you begin to peer through the building that surrounds you. Notable details were the enormous panes of glass and articulated emergency stairs that climbed the sides of the center like some mechanical parasite.
Our tour through Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston was quite extensive. From 10:45 until 6:00 pm, we traipsed through the city visiting all of these works:
- Harvard Square T Station by SOM
- Sackler Museum by James Stirling
- Gund Hall by John Andrews
- Holyoke Center by Jose Luis Sert
- Stata Center by Frank Gehry
- Simmons Hall by Steven Holl
- Media Arts & Sciences Building by Fumihiko Maki
- Kresge Auditorium by Eero Saarinen
- MIT Chapel by Eero Saarinen
- Baker Dormitory by Alvar Aalto
- Genzyme Center by Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner
- Macallen Building by Office dA
- Banq Bar by Office dA
- ICA Boston by Diller + Scofidio
I will repeat what was said to me by both a friend and my professor, Harvard certainly has a knack for hiring great architects to build their worst projects on campus.
This statement, however, can be re-evaluated. I really enjoyed the GSD by John Andrews. A GSD grad, Andrews did a great job of creating an interesting studio space for one of the leading architecture programs in the world. Upon entering, you find yourself in this open lobby area, complete with an "island" for a front desk. From the entry, a hallway proceeds left and right, which creates an exciting exhibition space that also works as a main circulation area. "The trays" prove both intimidating and motivating as they expose students and their work to all passerby. The mechanical systems and structural beams throughout the space are hysterical as some of them almost smack you in the head as you pass under. Overall, I enjoyed the studio space but was a bit critical of the environment created by the blinding artificial fluorescent lighting in the rear end of the trays. The low ceilings and lighting make the space feel too institutionalized and don't give the same open feeling allowing students to breathe and be exposed to the public.
The Macallen Building by Office dA was a great residential complex. With 150-units it was inspiring to see such an environmentally conscious project on a tight budget executed so brilliantly. With innovation in both structure and design, I loved the two-story apartment that we toured. The balconies were spectacularly public and private at the same time and every built furnishing was carefully detailed.
Even the wayfinding graphics were well-designed.
Diller + Scofidio's ICA Boston has been a favorite project of mine for some time. However, in person, I must say, certain aspects were disappointing. However, these disappointing features were more towards the ways in which the "single surface" concept was not able to be carried out inside the building.
It's unfortunate, we only had roughly 25 minutes to tour the ICA with one of the project architects. It was very interesting how he spoke of the project as a success and failure at the same time. Being one of D+S first large scale built projects, he accepted the fact that this was a learning experience through every aspect of the design and build process. The idea behind the ICA is that it turns the water into a piece of art for viewing, rather than the city. The main facade addresses the water instead of the city behind it. Also, the building seems to emerge from the Harborwalk itself by bringing the wooden materials into the building and creating various floor-to-wall wrapping effects. However, due to necessary program issues and other complications, sometimes this effect is only achieved symbolically on the outside of the building. This, unfortunately, cheapens the idea in some aspects.
On the other hand, the project's most effective space, the Mediatheque, is an experience worth the visit alone. Dropping out of the bottom of the main gallery view box, the Mediatheque frames the harbor as if you were watching a film. The theater style seating creates the idea that you are watching a film, and that film is the water outside. Indeed, the spaces also has an uncomfortable feeling, as it seems you are almost leaning forward about to fall into the water. Beautifully executed.
Steven Holl's Simmons Hall is one heck of an optical illusion. From a distance, this dormitory looks massive. Holl's use of the grid on the facade seems to frame individual windows to every room in the building.
However, upon closer inspection, each floor of the building is three small windows high. Thus, the building is really only five or so floors. Holl's idea being that one must be absorbed into the building to truly gain a sense of its scale.
One of my favorite projects was on the MIT campus. The MIT Chapel by Eero Saarinen was a brilliant space that exploited the use of daylight reflectance. Whether it be the strung thin metal sheets that seemed to be falling like some sort of heavenly rain or the perimeter glass detail that allowed the exterior reflecting pool to penetrate the chapel's interior space, natural light was the focus of this architecture.
A surprisingly big disappointment was Gehry's Stata Center. Let us all put the lawsuits and functionality of Gehry's work aside. Having been to Bilbao and having been able to experience the Guggenheim, it's going to be hard for Gehry to move me beyond that encounter. The Stata Center, from the exterior, looks impressive. The cartoonish forms that seem to be growing out of the ground or falling into wreckage make for a spectacle that's hard to beat. However, upon entering the building, I felt that the exterior was it. The interior public spaces did not have the same sense of swooping forms. The only thing moving was me through the winding corridor of the main floor. Craft on construction was terrible - pieces peeling everywhere. the materials used looked cheap and last minute. We were advised by a staff person in the building to climb to the second story of the atrium to find "magnificent shadows." The only thing magnificent about the upper floor was a crosswalk sign on the wall that read "Nerd Xing."
I guess, now reflecting, the best thing I can compare the interior to is the backstage lot at a low budget Disney animated film. Stuff just seemed to be there. No purpose, just thrown in the back closet for storage. And everything seemed to be made as quickly as possible with the cheapest materials possible. Not impressed. Maybe I'm missing something?
Aside from the architecture, we went on a Sam Adams Brewery Tour - it's free and you get to sample three beers in your free tasting glass! Plus, at the end, if you take your ticket to one of the local bars and order a Sam Adams, you get a free Boston Lager glass! Woot! From one bar to the next, we then visited the Cheers Bar, Bull & Finch Pub.
This was a bit disappointing as the bar is NOTHING at all like the set in the TV series. Sadly the only thing referencing the show are the outdoor "Cheers" sign, the giftshop, the scattered pictures of the Cheers cast, and the menu items like "The Norm Burger." But being a big Cheers fan, I had to go!
Obey Giant is everywhere in Boston. Every corner you turn, there's an Obey piece on a wall.
Sorry for the long post, it was quite an involved trip. If you're interested in seeing a few more photos from my trip, feel free to check out my Flickr page.
Robert Somol of the University of Illinois at Chicago
Free and open to the public! Hope to see you there.
Until next time, I leave you with this fun observation. The world's best "away message":