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Old 07-30-2010, 02:46 PM   #1
czsz
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Landmarking Brutalism

Op-ed in today's Globe:

Quote:
Landmark decision
Not all notable Boston buildings should be preserved
By Paul McMorrow
July 30, 2010

THE BOSTON Landmarks Commission will soon grant landmarks status to the Christian Science Center. That outcome is all but assured. What follows looks far less certain, and in that uncertainty, lurks trouble.

This current round of landmarking is a relatively quiet affair. The Christian Science Center complex is a beloved public gathering space. Architects admire the space for its detailing and for the way its geometry harmonizes with the historic neighborhoods around it.

Not all projects of the 1960s were designed as well, though. Several of the concrete-heavy modernist structures in Boston?s urban core choke off street-level vitality, sever neighborhood connections, and impede rational patterns of real estate development. They?re not just ugly; they?re also anti-urban.

The super-blocks of the Government Center urban renewal area, which stretch from the Financial District into the old West End, are particularly egregious culprits. That?s why they?ve been repeatedly targeted for redevelopment. In a normal economy, the Government Center Garage, City Hall Plaza, the District A-1 police station, the low-rise portion of the JFK Federal Building, and the state-owned Lindemann-Hurley complex could all be plowed under.

Then there?s City Hall, which Mayor Thomas Menino targeted for sale and demolition in late 2006, touching off debate about the place of 1960s-era modernism in the modern era.

What?s happening at the Christian Science Center has direct bearing on the future of all those other modern, brutalist monuments to the old New Boston.

The Christian Science Center complex will be the first urban renewal-era development in Boston to achieve landmarks designation, a powerful preservation tool that affords select buildings high levels of historic protection. But in the 118-page Landmarks Commission report that recommends preserving the complex, there?s no concise explanation of exactly why the Christian Science Center deserves protection.

In the absence of such an explanation, a debate is already bubbling up about what the landmarking designation really means. Is it an isolated bid to protect a beloved public space from over-development? Or does it confer new legitimacy to a vast collection of urban renewal-era monoliths, and set the table for an aggressive campaign to protect the rotten concrete core that architects I.M. Pei and Paul Rudolph and urban planner Ed Logue created five decades ago?

?The worst thing would be for us to learn the wrong lessons from landmarking the Christian Science Center,?? said George Thrush, director of Northeastern University?s school of architecture. ?I do not think we?re saying all Paul Rudolph buildings, all I.M. Pei buildings, all steel-reinforced concrete buildings built in the 1960s, deserve to be preserved as a keeper of the flame of that era. Are we going to make permanent the errors we made in the ?60s???

Ellen Lipsey, executive director of the Landmarks Commission, has insisted there?s no relation between what Landmarks is doing with the Christian Science Center, and what it may or may not do with that development?s contemporaries around Government Center. But Landmarks Commission documents suggest there?s some serious institutional inertia drifting in the direction of preserving the redevelopment parcels around Government Center.

A year ago, the Landmarks Commission updated a decades-old survey of central business district buildings constructed in the 20th century. The report recommended protecting City Hall, the Lindemann-Hurley complex, and the Government Center urban renewal district as a whole. It also recommended placing several buildings potentially in developers? sights ? from the Government Center T stop to the A-1 police station, the JFK Building, and the Government Center Garage ? on the National Register of Historic Places.

From an urban standpoint, that would be a catastrophe. The danger comes in wanting to collect the works of urban renewal-era architects like designer-label handbags, while ignoring the consequences of blind preservation.

Rudolph?s impossibly huge Lindemann-Hurley complex severed an important connection between Beacon Hill, the West End, and Haymarket. Today, it also stands between the State House and the Greenway. The Government Center Garage is a monstrosity that should come down as quickly as possible, and A-1, which lies next door, is in the footprint of the new buildings that would replace the garage. It isn?t nearly significant enough to warrant sacrificing the garage redevelopment for. And if the JFK Building proves anything, it?s that Walter Gropius, father of the Bauhaus movement, could design terrible, oversized floor plates like any other mercenary; if the feds really do want to vacate Gropius?s low-rise and put it out to bid, we should welcome that impulse, not fight it.

Paul McMorrow is a staff writer at Banker and Tradesman. His column appears regularly in the Globe.
http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ed...mark_decision/
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Old 07-30-2010, 03:01 PM   #2
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

Don't just preserve. Preserve through improvement.
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Old 07-30-2010, 05:39 PM   #3
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

I agree with the op-ed column. Most of the Brutalist-era buildings are too ugly and anti-urban to be worth preserving, and landmarking them will impede redevelopment into something better. The Christian Science Complex is a happy exception.
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Old 07-30-2010, 08:20 PM   #4
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

If St.Stephen Street was reopened across the back side of the plaza to connect to Dalton Street (keep the bricks to slow down traffic), the CS Monitor building had ground level restaurants or shops added facing the reflecting pool, and the tower was converted into a hotel, the entire complex would become quite urban. The only part of the CSC plaza which really requires an addition is directly adjacent to the Sunday School next to Horticultural Hall and Huntington Avenue. There is a dead space before the allee of basswoods which really could use a small building with street level activity to bring life to that spot on Huntington Avenue.
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Old 07-31-2010, 10:40 AM   #5
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

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If St.Stephen Street was reopened across the back side of the plaza to connect to Dalton Street (keep the bricks to slow down traffic), the CS Monitor building had ground level restaurants or shops added facing the reflecting pool, and the tower was converted into a hotel, the entire complex would become quite urban. The only part of the CSC plaza which really requires an addition is directly adjacent to the Sunday School next to Horticultural Hall and Huntington Avenue. There is a dead space before the allee of basswoods which really could use a small building with street level activity to bring life to that spot on Huntington Avenue.
I haven't been able to attend the last few meetings but FCCS proposal does (did?) include a structure atop/adjoining the Sunday School building. It also included a new "gateway" to Huntington Avenue where the trees are. The reflecting pool traverse is slated to line up with the entrance and the door of the old church building.

It's an interesting notion to restore vehicular traffic to the plaza. [s]Dalton[/s] Belvidere Street/W Newton might need to be rethought. Would all traffic be routed southbound? Another traffic light installed? How is the fountain handled?

Edit: Street name correction. But strike is broken?

Last edited by bbfen; 07-31-2010 at 04:06 PM.
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Old 07-31-2010, 01:29 PM   #6
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

The street, which might actually have been a different name than St.Stephen at that stretch, is still essentially there in the alignment and width of structures to the reflecting pool. The only change to the fountain would be to trim the very last concrete bench. However, I think the street could make a 30-45 degree turn to meet Belvedere, thus avoiding any changes to the fountain. Ideally it should be one way to avoid conflicts at the intersection with Westland Avenue. The whole purpose would be to provide access to the suggested shops/restaurants in the CS Monitor Building.

Extending the tree line from the fountain to the edge of the CS Monitor Building would also serve to help diffuse the gusty winds on the plaza.
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Old 07-31-2010, 03:36 PM   #7
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

Am I the only one who likes the CSP all minimalist in its emptiness? Cafes in City Hall Plaza, yes, but not so much here.
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Old 07-31-2010, 04:59 PM   #8
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

can't wait til you can see the reflection of a TGI fridays sign in the reflecting pool.
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Old 07-31-2010, 05:16 PM   #9
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

The signage would be limited to the space within the colonnade of the CS Monitor Building similarly to how it works at Church Park. The slanted concrete columns would screen any signage from being too intrusive and I also believe the relationship of height to width and angle to the reflecting pool would prevent any reflection of signage. The aesthetics of the site would remain exactly the same, only the use would change.
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Old 07-31-2010, 08:11 PM   #10
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

Sounds like business would be pretty slow.
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Old 07-31-2010, 09:54 PM   #11
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

The signage at Church Park is so deficient and hard to see from the street that I'm surprised any business can survive there. This mistake should not be repeated elsewhere.
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Old 08-16-2012, 10:07 AM   #12
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

Question: What's with the Hurley Building and all that chain-link fencing? An otherwise remarkable piece of architecture has been abused continually by the state. Is it for safety reasons to keep people from jumping off ledges?? Thanks for the input!
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Old 08-16-2012, 10:13 AM   #13
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

Hey Padre, welcome back!

I've noticed that as well and it annoys me as well, almost as much as the cheesy white picket fence above it.
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Old 08-16-2012, 12:16 PM   #14
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

Thanks for the welcome Statler. I've been away due to the downturn in the market and therefore in any really interesting items here that have compelled me. Also I left my career of 32 years and am now a life coach (www.parisecoaching.com) and write a regular blog for men. Anyway, the poor Hurley seems to take one step forward and three back. I was happy when the new courthouse was built and they improved the interior court yard. But the parking on the perimeter, esp. on Merrimack St. trashes the place and now those damned fences!!
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Old 08-16-2012, 02:10 PM   #15
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

I wonder if there might be any value in creating some kind of exhibit which would serve as a mark of shame for Boston; to remind us of a time when we allowed foolish (maybe malicious) architects to foist Soviet-style bunkers upon us, and the disaster they caused to the city, lest we repeat that mistake in the future.
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Old 08-16-2012, 02:18 PM   #16
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

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I wonder if there might be any value in creating some kind of exhibit which would serve as a mark of shame for Boston; to remind us of a time when we allowed foolish (maybe malicious) architects to foist Soviet-style bunkers upon us, and the disaster they caused to the city, lest we repeat that mistake in the future.
There have been exhibitions... celebrating it... they called it the "heroic period." OverUnder sponsored it.
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Old 08-16-2012, 02:31 PM   #17
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

I feel like we haven't really completely learned our lesson from that period. I still see architects getting all overly excited about buildings from the viewpoint of a helicopter or a skyline, without any regard for everyday life of people on the ground in and around these inhumanly scaled monuments to hubris.
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Old 08-21-2012, 04:09 PM   #18
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

Quote:
. But in the 118-page Landmarks Commission report that recommends preserving the complex, there?s no concise explanation of exactly why the Christian Science Center deserves protection.

Which makes me believe there's some kind of back-room dealing going on here. What motivated this move? Was someone going to tear down the complex and built a WalMart? Not likely, so why move now? This stinks of the typical insider manipulation of the system you get in this sort of commission.
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Old 08-21-2012, 07:05 PM   #19
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

I thought it's now widely known that FCCS voluntarily applied for protection. I don't think there's anything manipulative about it. I can't even think how it could be. The only thing unusual is that the church asked for it rather than waiting for hysterical do-gooders from away to raise a stink in the papers.
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Old 08-23-2012, 11:20 AM   #20
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Re: Landmarking Brutalism

Gov't Center Garage - Has to go... is slated to go... and thank God.

Hurley Building - I may be in the minority, but I actually like this building. Boston may not need the entire complex though. It would be great if there was a way to keep only the portion of the building along Merrimac. The open area at the corner of Staniford and Merrimac (currently surrounded by chain link fence) could be reconfigured into a small plaza with a fountain and umbrellas etc for the retail/restaurants found inside. The rest of the land should be broken up and developed. A cross-street should reconnect Staniford and NewChardon.

City Hall - Sell it, but keep it and re-purpose it. Turn it into retail. Boston needs a giant book store ever since Borders closed.

City Hall Plaza and buildings - Lose it...all of it. Break it up and build. Extend Hanover to meet Cambridge and extend Tremont to meet Congress to avoid mega-blocking the entire area. It doesn't even matter if it's a series of 900ft towers or a bunch of low-rise. CHP is a blight and needs to be removed.
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