After seven decades in practice, Henry Cobb has published his first collection of essays, interviews, lectures, and projects: Henry N. Cobb: Words & Works 1948–2018. The story of his best-known building, Boston’s John Hancock Tower (now 200 Clarendon), follows a dramatic arc from the controversies of its public review and construction to its recognition as a beloved icon of the city. In this excerpt, Cobb describes the Hancock’s apparent adherence to the rules of typical office buildings yet acknowledges that the form of the “notched rhomboid” deviates from such expected patterns. It can only be understood as a response to the setting, Copley Square, where the tower stands adjacent to H. H. Richardson’s Trinity Church. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the idealized image of the square had suffered from the intrusion of commercialism, and had, as Cobb observed, lost its meaning. His proposition was to find a new meaning for the square, seizing the opportunity of the Hancock company’s need for office space to propose that “Copley Square should have its own tower.” As Cobb's newest tower—the Four Seasons Hotel & Private Residences, One Dalton Street—nears completion, it's time to hear in his own words how its bold precursor, the Hancock, came to be more than 40 years ago: Our proposal was not well received. Indeed, the response in Boston was one of shock and horror. What we saw as the right building in the right place at the right time was seen by almost everyone else, and above all by our fellow architects in Boston, as the wrong building in the wrong place at the wrong time. But after nine months of acrimonious public debate, the necessary permits were obtained, and in the fall of 1968, construction began. Permission was granted not because I had succeeded in converting people to our way of thinking—for with only a few exceptions, I had not—but because had a building permit been denied, the Hancock company might well have carried out its threat to move its headquarters, with its 12,000 employees, to Chicago. This brazen exercise of corporate arm-twisting on the part of our client naturally contributed to the widespread opinion, often explicitly conveyed to me in person, that my colleagues and I had prostituted ourselves professionally in accepting and carrying out this commission. To compound the agony, during construction the building endured a series of mishaps that caused us and our client to experience the rare privilege of being, for almost half a decade, simultaneously despised and ridiculed. The most notorious of these problems, publicized worldwide, was the failure of insulating glass units that necessitated removal and replacement of all 10,334 panels in the curtain wall. Many in Boston saw all this as entirely just retribution for the egregious overreaching of the city’s largest corporation. Mercifully, however, an entrepreneurial T-shirt artist didn’t lose his opportunity to find a lighter side, with which I was able to outfit all three of my daughters in the otherwise miserable summer of 1973. Although the deceptive mutability of its image may suggest otherwise, there is nothing mysterious about the design of the Hancock Tower. It perfectly illustrates my view that the architecture of a tall building is 99 percent logic and 1 percent art—but don’t you dare take away that 1 percent! The extreme disparity in size between the tower and the church was the central predicament we faced. We chose to deal with it not by creating a gratuitous distance between the two—this would only have exacerbated the problem—but by bringing them into close proximity while positioning and shaping the tower in such a way that it becomes the contingent satellite and the church the autonomous center in the composition. To accomplish this, several aspects of the tower’s design may be cited as essential. First, the attenuated rhomboid plan-form, placed diagonally on its site, emphasizes the planar while minimizing the volumetric presence of the building, so as to effectively disembody the tower as seen from the square. Second, a bullnose corner detail facilitates the crucially important transition from trapezoidal base to rhomboid tower. Third, notches bisecting the end walls accentuate the weightless verticality of these planes and make legible the tower’s nonrectangular geometry. Fourth, the tower’s uniformly gridded and reflective surface, stripped of all elements that could suggest a third dimension, mutes the obtrusiveness of its enormous bulk and defers in all respects to the rich sculptural qualities of its much smaller neighbor. Fifth, rather than standing on the ground, the tower’s rhomboid volume slips weightlessly up out of the surrounding granite pavement, from which it is separated by a 1-inch-wide perimeter slot. Finally, the triangular space created between the church and the broad face of the tower pays homage to the apsidal view of Richardson’s building, reinforcing its intended role as the architectural cynosure of Copley Square. With regard to this latter aspect, it should be noted that the three-story lobby at the base of the tower is sheathed in precisely the same manner as all other floors; had the monumental scale of this space been directly exposed to view, it would surely have destroyed the delicate balance in the dialogue between church and tower. This concern also accounts for the modest scale of the three entries, originally sheltered by clear plastic domes, which were subsequently replaced by an attenuated stainless-steel canopy. Truth be told, the tower’s reflective surface and reticent posture do not invite entry. I used to joke with my colleagues—but not with our client!—that the proper means of gaining access to this impenetrable monolith would be through the porch of Trinity Church and along the nave to the crossing, where one would turn and descend by escalator into a tunnel below the street and emerge, finally, in the tower’s elevator lobby. On October 28, 1980, more than four years after the building’s completion, in my inaugural lecture as chairman of the architecture department at Harvard, I summed up my view of the matter as follows: We adopted a strategy of minimalism in the design of the Hancock Tower not for ideological reasons, but because the situation of the building demanded it. In the determined pursuit of our goal—to achieve a symbiosis between the church, the tower, and the square—we excluded everything that did not contribute directly to this end. For we believed that only thus could we temper the inherent arrogance of so large a building and endow it with a presence that might animate rather than oppress the urban scene. Today, more than three decades after writing these words, I find that I can still subscribe to them. Yet I also find myself still confronting a few questions that just won’t go away: Can this accommodation justify that transgression? Is this performance appropriate to that occasion? Does this tower belong in that city? To each of these questions the answer, it seems to me, must finally be both yes and no. This persistently disturbing ambiguity, in which the building discloses the anxiety of its predicament, perhaps explains why, among all my built works, the Hancock Tower is as close as I have ever come to poetry. It is also as close as I have ever come to silence. The building’s restraint to the point of muteness, its refusal to reveal anything other than its obsession with its urban context, is surely its greatest strength but also its ultimate limitation as a work of architecture. Despite the forcefulness of its gesture, the tower remains virtually speechless, and this resolute self-denial is, in the end, both its triumph and its tragedy. Henry N. Cobb: Words & Works 1948–2018, Henry N. Cobb, The Monacelli Press, $45.00
Posts tagged with "Boston":
On November 9, Facades+ is headed to Boston for a full-day conference. The conference features a range of facade specialists and manufacturers, ranging from stone fabricator Quarra Stone to Boston's very own designLAB Architects. Chris O'Hara, founding principal of Studio NYL, and Rishi Nandi, associate at Perkins + Will, are co-chairing the event. With decades of experience across the globe, both firms have been recognized with design awards for their advanced enclosure systems and finely executed architectural preservation projects. To learn more about what the two practices are up, AN interviewed the two co-chairs on the complexities of architectural preservation, environmental performance, and digital fabrication. The Architect's Newspaper: Both Perkins + Will and Studio NYL have been involved in numerous preservation projects. Could you expand on the difficulties of bringing historic structures up to contemporary standards, blending new design elements with the old, and the opportunities present with these projects? Rishi Nandi: The revitalization of historic buildings is challenging but pays great dividends. These buildings often represent something well beyond the program they house to their communities. Approaching the projects in a manner that is responsive to the neighborhood’s needs is critical since the structures often embody the resilience and stability of the communities they are embedded within. The most difficult part of any restoration is making sure the improvements you are making do not have any unintended consequences. For instance, many historic structures breathe differently than today's facade systems. This becomes a significant issue when one considers improving the performance of the envelope through insulation and air barriers. Understanding the hygrothermal properties of the walls is critical to ensure that potential compromising events like freeze-thaw do not occur. Matching old with new is also critical. We simply do not make component pieces the same way they were when many of these buildings were built. For example, no one is field fitting and assembling windows on site to conform to glazing dimensions that are all slightly off. The good news is that mass manufacturing is changing rapidly and customization options that did not exist in the 1980s have proliferated. We are often now able to work with fabricators in a hands-on way to create matching components that can replace those that we have to. By this, I mean that the first option in our approach is to rehabilitate as much as we can. Some of this is driven by the aesthetic. The majority of this, however, is driven by the consideration that the reuse of the existing structure and envelope has a significant environmental and social benefit. In these scenarios, we are able to keep intact the community's connection to the identity of the structure while significantly reducing the carbon footprint of the building through the reduction of primary materials. Chris O'Hara: Existing and historic buildings are a fantastic challenge. As we are always discussing sustainability, and it generally focuses on energy performance and recycled materials, it pales in response to what we can do by saving the embodied energy of an existing structure and breathing new life into it. Taking that existing structure that is either of an age where insulation was not considered and thermal comfort was managed through thermal mass and passive means, and mixing it with modern mechanical systems relying on a reduction of air exchanges–or worse yet a building designed with modern mechanical systems but an ignorance of envelope due to cheap energy–requires more analyses and more clever solutions. Management of the thermal performance of the existing building while trying to take advantage of the systems' drying potential is fun. Getting these buildings to perform at a high level is likely the most good we can do as a facade designer. What do you currently perceive to be the most exciting trends in facade design that boost environmental performance? RN: There are a lot of great products on the market including nanogel insulations, fiber reinforced polymer (FRP), and advances in glazing. That being said, as an architect, I have a tough time understanding the environmental impact of our products. We need better data from manufacturers that tell us clearly the waste stream. We need to know how much water is being used to make the products. Manufacturers should be required to help us better understand the life cycle carbon footprint of the products we are using. This information should be mandatory and should be directly influencing the way we make product selections and decisions. We can then have a more informed discussion on environmental impacts and, hopefully, then come up with a strategy on how to begin to address the concerns addressed within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s most recent report. CH: Fiber reinforced polymers (FRP) and vacuum insulated systems. For the FRP, our ability to more cost-effectively thermally break and structure our faces with nearly thermally inert materials opens up possibilities in how we build. Vacuum insulated glass and vacuum sealed nanogel insulation are offering the ability to drastically improve our system U values while thinning down our assemblies. Although these technologies are still new to the market and come with a cost, like all other advances we have seen in the last 20 years or so I expect that cost to come down as we find how to use these systems more efficiently. Digital fabrication offers incredible possibilities for the mass production of individual facade components. In your experience, how is this technology reshaping the industry and your projects in particular? RN: Technology is reshaping our approach. Digital fabrication workflows are being created that are beginning to bridge the gap between documentation and fabrication. Working from a common platform has a number of benefits including allowing for a more detailed conversation on material applications and efficiencies. Robotics and digital printing allow us to create the right responsive materials that maximize the material return while minimizing waste. This increased communication is pushing more and more early involvement from manufacturers. We have employed modified delivery methods such as the integrated design process and design assist to help engage fabricators earlier to better our designs, drive a level of cost certainty and work within proprietary systems that help minimize team risk. The result is a blurring of traditional lines. The next step to me is a disruption in the way we work. We are already starting to see it with companies like Katerra, who with their digital platform are looking for ways to deliver entire projects at all phases from design to construction completion using prefabricated components and an integrated approach not yet seen by the industry. It will be interesting to see how things develop over the next 15 years and the types of efficiencies that may be gained and what it means for the way we all work and deliver projects. CH: The use of digital fabrication seems to have found its way into most of our current enclosure projects, although the aesthetic is not always driven by the technology. We have found that the speed and precision it affords makes it an important part of our toolbox. Whether it is used for an elaborate cladding geometry or for the precise fabrication of repeated parts, it has really opened up the possibilities of what we can achieve while still being conscious of the parameters of schedule and cost. To do this the designer needs to understand the craft that goes into this work. Many do not understand that even with the technologies available there is still craft. The difference between this and a carpenter is simply what is in the tool belt. Further information regarding the conference can be found here.
A new architectural era is dawning at Boston University (BU) with the announcement of the building of the Data Sciences Center on the university’s main Charles River campus. First, it is a bit of design daring not commonly seen in Boston: a ziggurat-shaped tower with multiple cantilevers that will be the tallest building on campus. But moreover, it represents a break from the past for an institution that eschewed contemporary architectural patronage for more than two generations. “It’s like a spark plug that jumps out at you,” said Bruce Kuwabara, a partner in KPMB Architects of Toronto, designers of the building. “BU wanted to make a statement.” Gary Nicksa, BU’s senior vice president for operations, concurred, adding: “The city has embraced the idea of more remarkable architecture at BU.” A little background is in order. John Silber, president of the university from 1971 to 1996 and from 2002 to 2003, was an academic curmudgeon whose conservative politics were matched by his disdain for cutting-edge architecture. He even wrote a manifesto of sorts, a book titled Architecture of the Absurd, in which he excoriated his fellow college presidents for commissioning the likes of Frank Gehry and Steven Holl to design eye-catching buildings, singling out Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Stata Center by Gehry, Simmons Hall by Holl) for special scorn. But that was then, this is now. For this new landmark, BU invited a number of top architects to submit quals and then narrowed the field down to five: KPMB, Safdie Architects, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, and Elkus Manfredi Architects. BU officials visited works by many of the architects, taking a field trip to Toronto to view KPMB’s. Kuwabara described the KPMB scheme as a “vertical campus” that celebrates the importance of data science by bringing together the mathematics and statistics departments and the computer science department under one roof. The architect said the building’s spaces “spiral” around an interior atrium that is all about spontaneous encounters with colleagues and students that are essential in the data sciences field. “You need a building that encourages collisions,” Kuwabara said. The cantilevered and stepped massing yields several advantages. It forms balconies and green roofs that allow occupants fresh air and stunning views of the Boston skyline and Charles River. It will cause a play of light and shadow. And, significantly, it will appear to be a beehive at night, with loft-like interior spaces highly conducive to work and creativity 24/7. The choice of some materials is still a work in process. At present, the rust-colored cladding is specified as terracotta panels, but that could change, Kuwabara said. But whether terra cotta or metal, he says, it will be aesthetically compatible with the ubiquitous red brick found throughout Boston. Without specifically stating it, it is clear that BU wants a new architectural profile commensurate with those of Harvard University and MIT. “This will get noticed across the river,” Kuwabara said.
The city of Boston has unveiled a new vision for protecting the city’s 47 miles of shoreline and has used New York’s SCAPE Landscape Architecture to visualize the vision plan. The plan, "Resilient Boston Harbor," was presented yesterday by Mayor Martin J. Walsh before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. It builds off of the Climate Ready Boston 2070 flood maps and existing district-level plans, coastal resilience neighborhood studies, and the work done under the Imagine Boston 2030 initiative. The ultimate goal is to reinforce Boston’s public spaces, buildings, and infrastructure against the encroach of rising sea levels, the strengthening of storms that climate change will bring, as well as heat waves, drought, and worsening blizzards. With Boston’s population approaching 700,000 for the first time since the 1960s, catastrophic flooding would affect more residents than ever. “We’re not just planning for the next storm we’ll face, we’re planning for the storms the next generation will face,” said Mayor Walsh. “A resilient, climate-ready Boston Harbor presents an opportunity to protect Boston, connect Boston, and enhance Boston, now and for the future. As we enter a new era in our Harbor’s history, Boston can show the world that resilience is not only the ability to survive adversity, but to emerge even stronger than before. That’s the promise of a Resilient Boston.” To meet that ambitious goal, the city has broken down its plan into separate chunks for each neighborhood. The final goal involves opening up public access to the waterfront by raising portions of the coastal landscape, installing strategic flood walls, elevating infrastructure, and flood-proofing buildings, representing a synthesis and consolodation of the prior resiliency work done in the city. In East Boston and Charlestown, Wood Island and Belle Isle will be reinforced to prevent the loss of Boston’s only remaining salt marsh, and the most important transportation corridors will be elevated. The Schrafft Center waterfront will also be redeveloped to incorporate elevated parks and boosted economically by the addition of new mixed-use buildings. In South Boston and Fort Point, Fort Point Channel is currently a major floodway that will need to be redesigned, and a string of parks, dubbed the “Emerald Necklace,” will sop up excess floodwater along Columbia Road. In North End and Downtown, the Harborwalk and Long Wharf are slated for renovations, and the city is planning to kick off a Climate Ready Downtown study to pinpoint further optimizations. Similarly, Boston will launch Climate Ready Dorchester to study improvements to the Dorchester Waterfront. A redesign of Morrissey Boulevard to buffer it against flooding, and the opening of the waterfront along Columbia Point, have already been singled out as potential strategies. The cost won’t be cheap, but Mayor Walsh rationalized the expense as preventative. “In East Boston, we could invest $160 million in resilience or we could do nothing, and expect damages of $480 million," Walsh told the Chamber. "In Charlestown, we could invest $50 million now or pay over $200 million later. In South Boston, we could invest $1 billion or we could pay $19 billion in citywide damages, when Fort Point Channel and Dorchester Bay meet and flood the heart of our city. “We either invest now, or else we pay a much bigger price later. And we’ll pay that price in more than dollars. We’ll pay it in jobs lost, small businesses that never recover, homes destroyed, and families displaced.” The city will start by investing millions at each of the above sites and ten percent of all future capital funding towards resiliency initiatives. Still, the north-of-a-billion-dollar estimates will require funding from Massachusetts, the federal government, and private, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations. Besides hitting the goals outlined in Resilient Boston Harbor, the city is also committed to going completely carbon neutral by 2030.
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The Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) has big plans for Boston's Logan International Airport, ranging from the modernization of Terminal E to the expansion of adjacent runways. In 2016, as part of these modernization efforts, Boston-firm Arrowstreet delivered a dynamic expansion of its West Garage featuring a kinetic aluminum facade.
screen wall had to be fastened to the garage in a straightforward and adaptable fashion. The facade system is composed of 353, 11-by-5-foot panels that are Z-clipped to individual galvanized hangars, which are epoxy bolted to the precast concrete garage. Because of the Z-clips, individual panels can be rapidly removed from the overall structure for ongoing maintenance and inspection. The kinetic element is composed of six-inch curved aluminum squares that can move in the breeze. The 50,000 individual flappers are connected to the frame by a series of stainless steel rods and nylon spacers that allow the flappers to spin with the least amount of friction possible. With minimal resistance, the panels move even during minimal wind conditions. Below the moving aluminum flaps, Arrowstreet placed tiered rows of multicolored fins to provide the structure further luster. The design concept was modeled in Rhino and Revit, and the team was able to simulate the kinetic movements of the system for various panel sizes. After Arrowstreet tested a broad range of panel sizes, the firm exported the models for custom fabrication by exterior specialists, Extech. Linetec finished the flappers with their Class I clear anodize. Prior to installation, Arrowstreet installed a full-scale mockup onsite to test installation procedure, functionality, and resiliency. Furthermore, a section of panels and flappers were transported to Intertek’s architectural testing facility to undergo hurricane simulations to evaluate the resiliency of the fabricated prototype during extreme weather conditions.Located adjacent to the I-90 and the Logan Airport 9/11 Memorial, the site is highly visible to the nearly 30 million passengers that pass through the airport annually. The objective of the project? To deliver an easily assembled second skin capable of obscuring the structure’s utilitarian purposes while simultaneously providing outward views from within. According to Arrowstreet Principal David Bois: “The movement of air currents, a critical component of aviation, provided inspiration to the design team, the individual movement of the panels provides a visualization of air movement and a constantly changing facade.” Faced with a tight schedule, Arrowstreet recognized that the
A new monument dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King is coming to Boston—the city where they first met—and five teams are in the running to design it. This week, MLK Boston, the organization spearheading the effort, announced the finalists chosen for the project. The official memorial will sit in Boston Common, the oldest park in the United States, where King marched and addressed the public on April 23, 1965. Within the 50-acre space are other monuments and landmarks including the Shaw Memorial and the Parkman Bandstand. The Boston Capitol Building, the Freedom Trail, as well as the Black Heritage Trail also surround the 384-year-old site. To provide context for the new memorial, MLK Boston asked participants to create a site-specific permanent installation that would incorporate engraved phrases of the Kings’ seminal texts and speeches, and would use digital technology to enhance users’ experience. With the park serving as an everyday gathering place and home to many notable historic rallies, the memorial is meant to both inspire and engage the local community to reflect upon the pairs’ contributions to the Civil Rights Movement and the future of equality, peace, and justice in the United States. Through October 16, the public can review each of the proposals and submit feedback. All designs are also on view at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square and the Bolling Building in Roxbury. Check out the five finalists below: Avenue of Peace Yinka Shonibare and Stephen Stimson Associates This memorial walk in Boston Common will center around a towering fountain covered in a colorful mosaic. Set inside an oval reflecting pool lined with black granite, the sculpture will include the names of the pioneering Civil Rights activists as well as an olive branch design, signifying their commitment to peace. Twenty-two inscribed benches will be built along the walk and an interactive app will be available for download, telling the individual stories of King and Scott before they met in Boston, as well as their life together afterward. Boston’s King Memorial Adam Pendleton, Adjaye Associates with Future/Pace and David Reinfurt Inspired by Dr. King’s 1968 speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” this design provides a panoramic view of Boston Common via an elongated overlook made of black stone. The open structure bridges serve as handicap accessible walking paths descending from Beacon Street, while the sloped stone sculptures on the lawn provide public seating and form a radical amphitheater, according to the architects. Engraved on the surface of each stone is text from the Kings’ most famous speeches. A digital platform for mobile devices will accompany the memorial and provide additional transcripts, audio, and images. The Embrace Hank Willis Thomas with MASS Design Group This stand-out sculpture symbolizes the love and commitment that Dr. King and Coretta Scott had for each other, while simultaneously reminding visitors of the power of protest in the fight against injustice. Set atop a gentle incline, the 22-foot-high arms of the couple will be built with a mirrored bronze finish, allowing the reflection of both passersby and the surrounding park to be seen in the sculpture. People can walk through The Embrace and inspect it close up as well. The site will be split into two plazas and form an axis from the Capitol, to the Parkman Bandstand, and to Dudley Square where a proposed MLK education center may be built. Empty Pulpit Monument Barbara Chase-Riboud Set inside an undulating landscape of rolling hills, the focal point of this design is a truncated stone pyramid that forms a beacon of light at night. The towering structure is constructed out of granite and bronze and is inspired by a 17th-century wood pulpit, symbolizing MLK’s silenced voice. Visitors can walk underneath the monument via a passageway to see engraved images detailing the diaspora. On the back of the bronze sculpture will be the Kings’ most powerful quote, according to the designer, “I have decided to stick with LOVE, HATE is too great a burden to bear…” Bronze plaques with other famous phrases by the pair will be embedded into the surrounding greenery. The Ripple Effects Wodiczko + Bonder/Maryann Thompson Architects with Walter Hood The Ripple Effects showcases the impact the Kings’ leadership has had on future generations and their role in the emancipatory process in Boston, across the U.S., and around the world. Centered around two beacon towers that serve as a reminder of the couples' continuing presence, the memorial's ground rises from the plaza with terraced green spaces for seating. It would culminate in an empty, shaded platform for gathering and reflection. The bridge above would lead visitors across the Common and feature inscribed text chronicling emancipatory events from the 19th century to today. Below the bridge will be a glass wall where visitors can literally and figuratively reflect on their own role in this ongoing process of emancipation and activism.
New England might not garner the attention that other places get for contemporary architecture, but the region has a legacy of world-class architecture, including some great works of modernism. Two iconic monuments of modern architecture in America are in New England—Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center at Harvard and Alvar Aalto’s Baker House at MIT—along with seminal late-modern buildings such as Boston City Hall and the Yale Center for British Art. Today, many contemporary design stars have built structures across New England, including Frank Gehry, Rafael Moneo, Norman Foster, Herzog & de Meuron, Michael Hopkins, Renzo Piano, Charles Correa, Fumihiko Maki, and Tadao Ando. The finalists for a competition for a new contemporary art museum on Boston’s waterfront included Switzerland’s Peter Zumthor and Studio Granda from Iceland. The only local firm considered for the museum was the then relatively young Office dA; principals Nader Tehrani and Monica Ponce de León went on to fame as architectural educators beyond Boston. Although not unique to New England, the whole mentality of "if-you-are-good-you-must-be-from-somewhere-else" is found here. As one might expect, Boston is the center of most architectural activity in the region. Yet, despite a heroic postwar age of Brutalism, too much contemporary architecture barely rises above the level of commercial real estate. With the exception of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Institute of Contemporary Art and David Hacin’s District Hall, much of the frantic new downtown construction features the kind of glass boxes that pierce city skylines from Dubai to Shanghai. The city’s embarrassingly named Innovation District (often called the Inundation District due to its propensity for flooding) is scaleless, overbearing, and disconnected from the soul of Boston. OMA’s new scheme for the area—which the architects gratuitously refer to as “a dynamic and vibrant area that is quickly emerging as one of the most exciting neighborhoods and destinations in the country”—is an 18-story glass cube with the dreary moniker of 88 Seaport Boulevard. One might have hoped for more from OMA’s first Boston commission. The block will offer almost half a billion square feet of office space, 60,000 square feet of retail, and a paltry 5,000 square feet for civic and cultural use. Its gimmick is slicing the building into two sections with some terracing and plantings sandwiched in between. OMA disingenuously claims this double-volume exercise “creates diverse typologies for diverse industries,” and furthermore “generates an opportunity to draw in the district’s public domain.” In short, Boston will get an off-the-shelf dystopian nightmare. However, the Engineering Research Center at Brown University by KieranTimberlake is not just another knockoff. Although flush from the controversial but triumphant U.S. Embassy in London, the Philadelphians’ latest New England project is what good contemporary architecture ought to be. The $88-million, 80,000-square-foot laboratory and classroom building is both understated and environmentally responsible. Its 22 pristine labs steer the Ivy League school into uncharted territory in nano research, energy studies, and information technology. The ERC is a triumph, especially given Brown’s decades of struggle to find an appropriate contemporary architectural voice. Recent work on the Providence campus includes an international relations institute by Rafael Viñoly—the design of which was dumbed down to mollify historic preservationists; a tepid Maya Lin sculpture; and an awkwardly sited Diller Scofidio + Renfro art center that was commissioned to show that Brown could do trendy and edgy. These common missteps are best exemplified by the university’s first competition for an athletic center. Although the competition was officially won by SHoP, the donor sponsoring it declared his dislike of modern architecture and demanded the school hire Robert A.M. Stern instead. The cutesy Georgian result is predictably bland. The ERC was ahead of schedule and under budget, and rather than treating Rhode Islanders as rubes, the architects created what Stephen Kieran calls “a nice piece of Providence urbanism.” While the firm’s great strength is diminishing the environmental impact of their buildings, the ERC also contributes a handsome facade to the campus’s traditional buildings. The fiberglass-reinforced concrete fins, the building’s signature element, impose a timeless probity worthy of Schinkel. If KieranTimberlake grows weary of being identified as the designers of the $1-billion embassy that Trump slammed as “lousy and horrible,” imagine how tired Tod Williams and Billie Tsien must be of consistently being tagged with the label “designers of the Obama Library.” Is a client choosing them because of the reflected fame? Will all new works by the New York-based architects be measured against that Chicago shrine? Yet Williams and Tsien have created a number of noteworthy academic works in New England that deserve similar attention, including buildings at Bennington and Dartmouth. Their theater and dance building at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, is almost complete. Here, the very long shadow is not cast by the architects’ own projects, but by Louis Kahn’s library across campus. Kahn’s brick tribute to 19th-century Yankee mills—and the symmetry of Georgian style—is one of the great pieces of architecture in New England. The big block of the drama building by Williams and Tsien wisely does not choose to echo Kahn but is curiously almost a throwback to the early Brutalism of I. M. Pei. It establishes a more rugged character with a marvelous texture composed of gray Roman bricks. A more satisfying Granite State structure by Williams and Tsien is a library, archives, and exhibition complex at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. MacDowell is a century-old artists’ colony where thousands of painters, writers, and musicians, including James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Willa Cather, have sought quiet and isolation in a collection of rustic cabins in the woods. Thornton Wilder wrote his classic play Our Town during his time here. Williams and Tsien’s sensitive addition to the colony’s 1920s library is only 3,000 square feet, cost around $2 million, and is an exquisitely crafted gem. The single-story library is constructed of a nearly black granite. Set in a birch grove created by the leading modern landscape architects in Boston, Reed Hilderbrand, this gathering place for residents appears at one with the rocky soil and forests of Northern New England. A 23-foot-tall outdoor chimney flanking the entrance plaza to the library makes reference to the hearths in all of the MacDowell studios. It also looks like a primitive stele, giving the entire ensemble an aspect that is more primal than modern. Another prominent New York architect, Toshiko Mori, has produced a simple yet elegant warehouse for an art museum in the faded seaport and art destination of Rockland, Maine. Built to house a long-time contemporary art cooperative that had no permanent collection and only inadequate facilities for exhibitions and classes, the saw-toothed clerestories at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA) make reference to New England factories while bringing in what the architect calls “that special Maine light.” Like those functional structures, Mori used economical, non-custom materials such as plasterboard and corrugated zinc that wrap the exterior, embracing the lack of funds to her advantage. Despite the nod to Rockland’s working class vibe, Mori created a thoughtfully wrought sophisticated work of art on an unremarkable side street. Mori’s Japanese heritage comes through in her subtle proportions based on a 4-foot grid. The CMCA offers a refreshing contrast to extravagantly costly new museums by superstar architects—the 11,000-square-foot arts center cost only $3.5 million. Mori has crafted a museum based on flexibility rather than attitude. A summer resident of nearby North Haven, she endowed her simple statement with an air of Yankee frugality. But perhaps the most encouraging new project is the $52-million John W. Olver Design Building at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. A cooperative venture of three departments in three different colleges—architecture, landscape, and building technology—the autumn-hued, aluminum-wrapped school embodies the dynamic spirit of New England’s first publicly supported architecture program. The 87,000-square-foot studio and administrative space is the work of Boston–based Leers Weinzapfel and landscape designer Stephen Stimson, with contributions from the faculty-cum-clients. Construction Technology chair Alexander Schreyer, for example, a guru of heavy-timber structural systems, helped fashion what is perhaps the largest wood-frame building on the East Coast. The zipper trusses that span the 84-by-56-foot, two-story-high common area demonstrate the inventiveness of wood technology. The glulam trusses arrived on-site precut and were snapped together with pins. In short, the academic contributors got to show off their research and also benefit from it. In a region noted for some of the nation’s oldest and most renowned design schools, the Design Building announces the arrival of the new kid on the block. Its handsome envelope is pierced by asymmetrically placed tall and narrow fenestration as a nod to the doors of the tobacco barns that are the university’s neighbors in Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley. From its roots as a fledgling offering in the art department in the early 1970s, design education at UMass has grown into a powerhouse. As the core of a complex of postwar and contemporary architecture, the Design Building helps to bring Roche Dinkeloo’s Brutalist Fine Arts Center into contact with a business school designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). While BIG’s work is sometimes incredibly innovative, the firm’s UMass project looks as if it might be another example of a second-tier work foisted on a boondocks location. Less flashy than its newer neighbor, Leers Weinzapfel’s Design Building is nonetheless a bold, homegrown achievement. New England’s patrimony is a tapestry of local and outside talent. A significant regional building would not be a postmodern structure in the shape of a lighthouse or a neotraditional re-creation of a Richardson library, but something like the UMass studios. Capturing the spirit of the best of New England design depends little upon reputation and huge expenditure. Rather, there is a direct correlation between realizing a quality work of art and understanding the region’s history of wresting a hard-won life from the granite earth. The challenge for successfully practicing architecture in New England is accepting an uncompromising intellectual toughness that demands respect for the eminently practical as well as the aspirational.
From now until October 14, visitors to the Harvard University Graduate School of Design (GSD) can enjoy the fruits of urban research from four cities: Berlin, Istanbul, Mumbai, and Boston. Urban Intermedia: City, Archive, Narrative is the product of four years of research, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and compares and contrasts the history and growth of each city to find commonalities and differences. That four-year project was spearheaded by the GSD’s Eve Blau, who curated the show with Robert Pietrusko, as part of the Harvard Mellon Urban Initiative. The exhibition is a culmination of the team’s research but is also intended to spur discussion and gather feedback on the future direction of the project. Höweler + Yoon Architecture handled the installation design of Urban Intermedia in the school's Druker Design Gallery, centered around four concrete stations, one for each city, where narratives are projected. These narratives are a combination of spatial and historical information and present open-ended stories that are meant to encourage viewers to dig deeper. These narratives delve into the three key themes that guided the research in each city: the planned and unplanned, a look into formal and informal placemaking; migration and mobility, how the residents and others move through each city; and nature and technology, examinations of each city’s infrastructure and urban ecology. Urban Intermedia has previously been on display in Istanbul and Berlin this past year, and the GSD’s Stephen Gray has added a Boston-centric supplement to the show’s Harvard homecoming. The new section in the current exhibition adds archival materials that contextualize the role of race, space, and power in Boston’s development and covers three eras of the city’s growth. Gray solicited Boston-based collections for “race and space” materials and received contributions from institutions such as the Boston Globe, Boston Public Library, Northeastern University, and Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center. A 33-foot-long, wooden meeting table has also been installed as a place to exchange ideas. Lectures, classes, and discussions will be hosted at the table, which will serve as a site of “active research” until the exhibition’s closing in October.
What would it be like to approach the city from the perspective of an animal pushed out of its home by development, water falling during rain, or a windblown seed wanting to take root? What structures and spaces could be created or adjusted to make the city a more welcoming place for nature and wildlife? How could nature improve the urban environment if things were designed to welcome the natural world instead of seeing wildlife as unwelcomed invaders? This special event will start with a short tour around NatureStructure by exhibition curator Scott Burnham, followed by a session in which participants will brainstorm ideas for a more nature-centric city and draw on the windows of BSA Space gallery, sketching their ideas for a more harmonious relationship between nature and the city. All skill levels are welcome. You do not need to be a master sketcher to participate. Snacks, beer, and wine will be provided. Places are limited so reserve your spot today!
Architecture and technology have always been inextricably linked, and with technology advancing faster than ever, contemporary architects have their hands full. Massachusetts-based planning and design studio Sasaki has a new initiative to help designers strengthen their skills. This past spring Sasaki launched an incubator program within its headquarters where tenants can directly interact with the firm's experts. The incubator includes a mix of tenants from a variety of industries, and Sasaki wants to leverage their interdisciplinary expertise to create an environment where teams can grow and cooperate. The incubator space is 5,000 square feet of both shared workspaces and research studio space. For the interiors, Sasaki chose to strip a former mill building back to the underlying structure, leaving the brick walls, wooden columns, and beams and joists exposed. The floorplan is open, though Sasaki has carved out several spaces for private meetings and conference calls. The Foundation has established a grant program for two-to-four teams on a nine-month fellowship, centered around four themes: climate innovation, transportation, accessibility, and placemaking. The incubator itself supports the aforementioned programming for grant teams and includes Sasaki as a design consultant for the those in the program. The Sasaki office and the Foundation have extended this spirit of collaboration to their second annual beyondAEC Hackathon. The Sasaki incubator will host this year’s Hackathon on July 20 and will encourage those in architecture, engineering, and construction to brainstorm solutions to real-world problems they’ve faced. The first beyondAEC Hackathon in 2017 drew 40 participants, including a handful of architecture students from local universities. Kyle and Jim Martin, inspired by engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti’s annual NYC-based hackathon, launched beyondAEC with the help of Sasaki. Kyle Martin says the hackathon provides an opportunity for local AEC practitioners to “foster a culture of design technology and push boundaries outside of their day to day practices.” Jim Martin added that they wanted to make space for “a culture of experimentation for participants to dive into and develop new ideas and learn from each other.” Sasaki will hold workshops to build up to the event through June and into July.
The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston will soon occupy both banks of the Boston Harbor (Seaport and East Boston) as its exhibition space, ICA Watershed, opens to the public on July 4. The new extension was designed by Cambridge-based studio Anmahian Winton Architects. The 15,000-square-foot Watershed will showcase contemporary art and was built from the ruins of an abandoned copper pipe and sheet metal facility known as the East Boston Shipyard. It is accessible by water taxi, car, and public transportation, and will open every summer from late May to early October. Anmahian Winton tore down most of the Watershed’s derelict predecessor but preserved some of its iconic elements, such as the crane, monorail hoists, and railroad tracks. They also incorporated new industrial materials such as the translucent polycarbonate walls for the facade. The architects wanted to challenge the customary “white room/black box” gallery setting and introduced an unpolished industrial space for exhibiting Boston-specific artwork. According to a statement from Anmahian Winton , “a 250-foot-long slot skylight shines through new steel trusses, allowing light to wash down the richly textured concrete-and-cinderblock surface of an existing wall that had once supported the loading and unloading of rail cars running through the building.” Each of the two end walls are particularly emphasized and hold monumental hangar doors that can be raised to open up the gallery to the shipyard and harbor. The Watershed’s inaugural exhibition was created by Los Angeles-based video artist Diana Thater. Her site-specific installations transform architectural space through projected videos. Thater’s piece at the Watershed will explore themes of nature and perception through moving images, light, and color.
ACADIA, or the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture, established the ACADIA Awards of Excellence to recognize outstanding individuals and practices that think critically about the impact and possibilities of computer-aided design. This year, the ACADIA Awards recipients, including Mónica Ponce de León and Oyler Wu Collaborative, will present their work at the conference titled Recalibration: On Imprecision and Infidelity at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City from October 18–20. Dean of Princeton University School of Architecture Mónica Ponce de León won the Teaching Award of Excellence. Ponce de León is a Venezuelan-American architect who is also a renowned educator. She is the founding principal of MPdL Studio, which has officesin New York, Boston, and Ann Arbor. Prior to her deanship at Princeton, she was dean of University of Michigan’s Taubman College and a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD). The awards committee commended her for the “integration of digital technologies into architectural education.” Jenny Wu and Dwayne Oyler, partners at Oyler Wu Collaborative, were awarded with the Digital Practice Award of Excellence. The L.A.-based, award-winning firm is widely recognized for its expertise in material research and digital fabrication. The firm is known for projects such as The Exchange in Columbus, IN, the 2013 Beijing Biennale installation named The Cube, and their installations and pavilions with SCI-Arc. The partners are both currently teaching at SCI-Arc and Harvard GSD. Other awards included the Innovative Academic Program Award of Excellence, given to the Institute of Advanced Architecture Catalonia; the Innovative Research Award of Excellence bestowed upon NVIDIA robotics researcher Dr. Madeline Gannon; and the Society Award of Excellence won by Association for Robots in Architecture co-founders Sigrid Brell-Cokcan and Johannes Braumann. Check out the complete list of winners here.