Boston's Modern(ist) Life Pt. 2

Boston, Massachusetts
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.
So, I've spent the past week pondering Ryan's comments on my last post. I think he has point. Perhaps the problem has been more with modernist planning then with modernist architecture. It is hard, however, to totally separate the two. I was reading this great passage the other day, and I think it's worth repeating:

"Perhaps the most damaging to the historic city was (the proposal) that modern structures should break with the sculptural system by which individual buildings in European cities became part of a larger urban whole. (sic) Since the Renaissance, European cities had been configured by integrating individual buildings into the larger sculptural mass of the block and allotting the negative space between blocks of buildings to serve as the circulation network of the metropolis. In this system, the front face of each building lines up with its neighbors to form a continuous street wall, and the open space between the street walls is devoted to sidewalks and roadways. Thus each building, no matter how idiosyncratic, is still part of a larger urban design. (sic) Le Corbusier suggested that the whole idea of the historic city block as a unifying sculptural mass should be abandoned - that modern buildings should not adhere to this age-old architectural social contract but should stand in open spaces, disconnected from their historic neighbors. As a result, not only would the design of his buildings be radically different and their size enormous, but the centuries-old dialogue of buildings, wherein each structure's design entered the communal urban architectural conversation, would be ended."
-Anthony M. Tung (2001)

As you can see, the very form that modern buildings have taken has lead them away from traditional urban structure. So, the question is: can modernism be incorporated into the urban fabric, and if it can, is it still modernism?

The Hancock Tower in Boston's Back Bay is a building that I feel has done well blending into the city. The Hancock was designed by I.M. Pei and built about 20 years ago. It's the second tallest building in Boston (and about 4 feet shorter then the IDS). It could not be more different from it's surroundings. It's about 52 stories higher then every building on the surrounding blocks. It sits at a weird angle, instead of on the Back Bay's regular grid. It's made of glass, every other building around it is masonry. Yet, it works. Why? It reflects everything around it. The top half looks like the sky. The bottom part reflects the beautiful Trinity Church across the street. It's gorgeous.

So, in retrospect, build using contemporary forms but respect the ways that cities work. The End.



Street Art on the Green Line.

Boston, Massachusetts
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.



Boston's Modern(ist) Life

Boston, Massachusetts
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.
I've been having a lot of discussions lately on the merits (or demerits?) of modernist architecture/planning. Most committed urbanists are pretty firmly set against most forms of modernism. I am, for the most part, one of them. To paraphrase a quote I read once, modernism's greatest failure is it's inability to create communities.

One of the projects that almost always comes up as one of modernisms greatest failures is Boston's Government Center. The Project for Public Spaces actually rates it as the worst square in the world. The centerpiece is the weird-ass-upside-down-concrete-spaceship that is Boston City Hall. I've been hearing a lot of people saying lately that they should just tear the whole thing down.

Now, the City Hall fails in a lot of ways, it sits on stilts, so it's hard to access, It blocks the view of Fanueil Hall from Scollay Square, but most peoples problems with it are on aesthetic grounds. I've been reading the book Lost Twin Cities, which is great by the way, and I've been struck by how many beautiful Victorian buildings were torn down in the 40's and 50's on aesthetic grounds. At the time, people saw it as gaudy and ugly. So here is my new thesis on architecture: people will (almost) always see the dominant style the proceeded the current dominant style as being ugly and unworthy of protection. Preservationists (and us) should therefore do everything they can to protect more current building types until such a time as they can be correctly judged, even if that means working hard to save some awful ugly buildings.

The old Gutherie Theater in Minneapolis is another example of a modernist building that people see no use in saving. My father in law once said he didn't see the point, it's just another glass and steel building, which might be the case, the thing is, people aren't building glass and steel buildings in that style anymore. It won't be replaced if you knock it down, and in 50 years, when people appreciate modernist architecture again, they will judge us by our failure to save these sorts of buildings.



Everyday is a good day...

San Juan, Puerto Rico
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.
...when you buy airline tickets.

I'm leaving May 25th.

Arrive in Hong Kong May 27th, stay there until May 30th and then on to Ho Chi Minh City.

Travel about Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos, go back to Boston on June 30th.





Dublin, Ireland
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.
I just got an e-mail from Appletree Press out of Belfast (who seem like they are an actual publisher) and they've asked permission to use this photo in an Irish History book they are publishing. Not exactly my best photo, but it's still pretty cool. I'll get credited and everything :-)



Rhode Island Pictures

Providence, Rhode Island
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.
I put up my Rhode Island pictures. Click the ballpark at the right.

A bit of Rhode Island trivia for you: Rhode Island had its own declaration of independence which was read from a balcony in Newport in May of 1776 (before the rest of the country declared itself independent on July 4th).



I walked by a bar called the Quahog Lodge...

Salem, Massachusetts
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.
...I kind of thought that was a made up name.

but anyways, I'm in Newport, Rhode Island right now for the Southern New England American Planning Association yearly conference thingy. I'm having a good time.

My hostel has internet, which I wasn't expecting, so I didn't bring a cord to upload my pictures (sad face).

Like Wisconsin and Nova Scotia, Rhode Island is one of those places that I can't imagine a reason I'd ever live there, but I still really like it. Providence has a great downtown and Newport is one of the prettiest small towns I've seen in America. One of the best things about Rhode Island is that the city is the city, the towns are towns and the rural is rural (instead of varying degrees of suburb, like most of the country). I think small places (or at least places that are geographically constrained) are so much more aware of what needs to happen to protect their well-being (the Netherlands and san Francisco being two other examples). I'll write more about this when I have some pictures to post.

The conference is good. So far I've had sessions on making design a priority in affordable housing and some stuff about LID (low-impact-development), which is basically about how to build without totally upsetting the watercycle and the natural beauty of a plot (apparently Seattle, Portland and Virginia are getting really good at this stuff).

Tomorrow I've got a session where lawyers from each side of the Kelo vs. New London (eminent domain) will be speaking. It should be really interesting.



Heads up.

Chisinau, Moldova
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.
J wrote some about being in Moldova. Go check it out.

A quick heads up to you Minneapolisians, the Walker has some cool exhibits right now. They've got Andy Warhol's silkscreens of celebrity icons juxtaposed with disasters. I'm not a huge Warhol fan, but I have seen some in person before and it's comes off well (some people are like that, they're just better in real life).

The one I'd really like to see is called Some Assembly Required: Contemporary Prefabricated Houses. It looks really interesting. Prefab houses can go either way, but they're still fascinating to me. I'd love to see it, but I don't think I'm going to be in Minneapolis before it ends. If anyone goes, let me know how it is.

Also, I like Farheen Hakeem a lot (other than the lack of stadium funding) If I were still living in Mpls, she'd get my write-in mayor vote this year (in fact, I would have been working the campaign).

In Boston, I'm sticking with Menino. Hennigan's policies towards housing are poor, and she's weak on neighborhood rights. Menino is too much of a machine politician for me, but despite that, Boston as a whole (and Boston's neighborhoods individually) are improving. "Affordable Housing" (at least for Boston) is protected and it's clear that Boston will do everything it can to keep on top in culture and education. The types of development that are happening are assuring that Boston will retain it's urban feel, it's great public transit and it's walkability. Plus we'd have to change all the signs if Menino lost.



the calm

Istanbul, Turkey
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.
I just turned in the midterm paper that marks the halfway point of the semester for me. It feels great. Now I've got almost nothing due until my two big papers in December. I'm writing one on the process of building the Lightrail in Minneapolis from a sociological perspective and one on the types of working class housing in Friedrichshain in Berlin. I haven't developed the first one very much, but the second one is going to focus on how the "crisis" housing that lead to the social unrest of the industrial revolution became the desirable housing of the post-industrial city. I may need some photos for presentations, so if I can get a Minneapolisian and a Berliner to volunteer, I'd appreciate it.

New week I'm going for a couple of days to Newport, Rhode Island for a conference with the Southern New England branches of the American Planning Association. I've got sessions on low income housing, low impact development, neighborhood density, eminent domain and (best of all) historic mill reuse! (there was nothing interesting happening that session time). I'm looking forward to it. Newport should be pretty too. I'm taking public transit down there. Rhode Island has one bus system for the entire state. How cool is that?

J's turning 24 next week. I'm married to an old women. How'd that happen? The picture there is another one of hers from Istanbul. The foreground is Europe and the other side of the bridge is Asia. I find that crazy. A bridge that runs between continents. Maybe will have the opportunity to drive to Russia before the ends of our lives.


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