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    On losing (some) faith - Peabody Terrace

    Quilian Riano
    Jun 24, '07 9:47 AM EST

    I am sure that we all have had experiences inside of buildings by the more well known architects. I have lived inside a Legorreta and a Sert. The Legorreta was in the Santa Fe Art Institute during my wife's art residency, and I have to say that I was in love with the place. The materiality, scale, and light conditions made our stay there a wonderful one. The building is a typical Spanish courtyard house with rooms for the invited artists on the edges allowing for a hallway to face the interior courtyard. The courtyard is different all along its perimeter allowing for a beautiful change of light throughout the day.

    Photos by Johnny Panic
    Images by Lourdes Legorreta

    ON THE OTHER HAND, I was thoroughly disappointed with Peabody Terrace by Josep Lluis Sert. On my very first post I mentioned that it felt a little dorm-like, but I still enjoyed it. The longer we lived there, the more we began to dislike it. Let's start with the materiality, the interior concrete is very rough and cold. Then we can move on to scale, I think that Sert was a short man, but there is no excuse to making floor to ceiling heights of just over 7'!! It feels crammed and (to us at least) felt claustrophobic inside. Next, the one thing I thought genius of this place is the skip-stop elevator system which allows for a lot of the apartments to span the entire building width. Well, I do not think that was used effectively. On one side (in the living / dining / kitchen) there is a huge window that leads to the balcony. After making so much fuss to allow the apartment to span the entire width, the bedroom side is blank, no window but a only really small opening on the side. The result is an apartment that feels much darker than it should. Finally, the courtyard is typical modernist dystopia (much unlike other Sert buildings around Harvard). It is a dead space that feels sad and no one really inhabits (is it ok to talk about feelings when talking architecture?).

    It was sad to me, because I like to like Sert, and I wanted to like Peabody. But at the same time I think that this will be among the most valuable lessons I'll take with me; that even the smartest idea-building can fail miserably (at least on the eyes of some of its residents). I guess that the idea became all-powerful and they forgot about the people that would have to deal with the building. At the end the views were not even worth the trouble to us, so we broke our lease early and moved to a much older neo-Carolingian building we actually like much better (tall ceilings, wood floors, lots of light during the day even though it faces east).

    And let us not even get into the way Harvard Housing treats grad students and the outrageous prices they charge for all these apartments. It really is only worth it because you are closer to school, and the maintenance crew is very helpful.

    I actually did not take any interior pictures of peabody, so you'll have to take my word for it. Here are some more exterior shots.


    • vado retro

      its funny when i went to unm, the first week we had to present some architect who's work we liked etc.(this from a bunch of peopel with no architecture backgraound) i did barragan and talked about enthusiastically etc. and the prof said "well this is new mexico and its totally different" or some such shit. well he was on one hand correct however but im now if the troops go to santa fe for a field trip they go to the leggorettas up there.

      Jun 24, 07 10:45 am  · 
      brian buchalski

      i was always intirgued by peabody terrace even though i had never been inside...and i suppose with that review that i'm now even more intrigued than before

      Jun 24, 07 1:42 pm  · 

      q, moving was a very smart move. for all those reasons and because you don't want to be trapped inside harvard all the time- there are much nicer neighborhoods in the area. it's good to step out of the whole campus thing so that when you're home, you're home.

      Jun 24, 07 3:57 pm  · 
      vado retro

      see if 18 abbey road in brighton is for rent. i used to live there. its just off western ave. by wgbh(if wgbh is still in the same place.)

      Jun 24, 07 5:24 pm  · 

      i went by there once in a cab when i was living in brookline, vado. i couldn't remember your number but i noticed the sign and was like--abbey road! yeah wgbh is in a big bunker of a building around there.

      fascinating thoughts, q--i was always jealous of those towers from the outside. wish i could see some interior shots now--i'll have to get googling.

      i had a small loss of faith once, but i can't remember what building it was. hmm, i'll have to check the sketchbook. as a rule i'm typically totally surprised and pleased by architecture in the flesh, as i'm sure we all are. probably makes it that much sadder when you finally realize you're disappointed in something.

      Jun 24, 07 8:11 pm  · 

      from the looks of it on google earth vado your old place may be demolished.

      Jun 24, 07 8:14 pm  · 
      vado retro

      those bastards! that was a pretty nice place.

      Jun 25, 07 1:40 pm  · 
      vado retro

      i googled it and its still there. the arrow is pointin to the wrong address.

      Jun 26, 07 11:56 pm  · 
      brian buchalski

      when i was in boston i had a friend living at 69 hooker street in allston. i think it's there.

      Jun 27, 07 10:42 am  · 

      I lived on the 22nd floor of building 2 of Peabody Terrace and I completely understand your opinion. I had a long wide apartment but I didn't even have a window facing the Charles! I had this big blank wall that begged for a window. My apartment was broiling temperature in the winter AND summer and when the elevator broke (they seemed to be out of service at the same time) it was a long, LONG walk to the top floor!

      Jun 27, 07 2:30 pm  · 

      funny that skip-stop elevators, which caused so much decay and despair in the projects, are employed as agents of elegant living here.

      Jun 28, 07 8:33 am  · 

      don't you think Peabody Terrace is far more sensitive to the scale & use of the city than 95% of what was built at the same time? at least from the outside, apparently not so sensitive from the inside...

      I've been in 69 hooker street (the landlord's last name is Rider. wtf.) possibly one of the best apts in town for the price, though. Lower Allston is the shit.(it's LA not boston.)

      Jun 28, 07 11:33 pm  · 
      o d b

      +q - do you live in the towers or in the apartments in the base?

      I had a friend who lived in a studio apartment in the one of the base buildings and loved it, and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting him there. He had a great balcony w/ nice breezes coming up from the Charles, and great light from the full height glazing that made the short ceilings feel spacious. I wonder if the tower units, which have less glazing from what i can tell, feel more claustrophobic.

      also, i've always liked the sequence of public spaces along the ground. although i did not live there, it seemed like they provided a range of experiences and opportunities, from more public (the hardscape courtyard in the middle where there always seemed to be families milling about) to the more private grassy ones (I'm thinking in particular of the one next to the parking garage).

      I know this project has a lot of problems, but I've always thought my experience of the place was more positive than people made it out to be. but, i never had to live there 24-7, although I always thought it would be cool.

      Jul 17, 07 6:17 am  · 
      o d b

      one last comment...

      in contrast to One Western Ave. across the river, I feel like Sert was able to create a much more diverse and subtle range of outdoor spaces more convivial to graduate student life than the monumental space created by Machado Silvetti for their grad housing project.

      Jul 17, 07 6:23 am  · 

      Not surprised by your observations, Quilian. I lived on the eighth floor of one of the Peabody towers for in Summer '88, in between my options year and thesis. I bailed after two months. My flatmate there, incidentally, is now a plastic surgeon (breast augmentation) with a regular reality (?) show on E! channel, but that is a whole other story.

      He commissioned me to construct an eighteen foot (totally illegal) wood stud and gypboard wall in order make a long corridor between the bathroom and the terrace door, turning the living area into a third bedroom. His sister moved in and we split the rent three ways.

      He and I carried all that material up on the elevators you describe. The solid concrete floors and ceiling made it possible to secure the wall with rubber lined bolts that could be tightened against the ceiling. We created an extra closet with a jog in the wall, giving the whole thing greater stability.

      Someone asked me once if HH charged him later for the removal of the wall. "You kidding?" I said. "They probably charged him, then left the wall up and charged the next people for a triple."

      Biggest complaints: West facing concrete walls built up heat during day, radiated it all night. My first (and only) experience with high rise living taught me the cardinal rule of living more than three stories off the ground: Get a vacuum cleaner. You can't shake a rug off an eighth floor terrace (at least, not more than once).

      I also lived in two of the Gropius dorms, Ames and Richards. Interesting showers.

      Best living arrangement: Top floor of wooden triple decker at 7 Lewis Street, Somerville, options year ('87-'88). Cross breezes, porches front and back, wood floors, great for parties. We hauled our huge sofa up the front of the building onto the front porch. Had a washer with no dryer, so our clothes used to freeze on the back porch line and then sublime until dry. Love that steam heat.

      Crawled in one night after some grueling charrette to find a party raging in my apartment (I had three roommates). The light switch to my room was on the hallway wall. Revelers were leaning against this wall, so all night long the light was on and off.

      Dec 8, 07 1:30 pm  · 

      i am going to live at 2 peabody unit 2-412. do you happen to know where i can find out if my unit has direct access to elevators? i emailed the housing office but haven't gotten a reply yet.

      Jul 16, 08 12:18 pm  · 

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