|08-02-2007, 11:41 AM||#1|
Join Date: Jan 2007
Peter Kuttner: "the people's architect"
Profile on the architect of the Charles St. Jail hotel and the Childrens Museum expansion in today's Globe:
The people's architect
Peter Kuttner is interested in public space, not public notice
By Carlene Hempel, Globe Correspondent | August 2, 2007
CAMBRIDGE -- Peter Kuttner pauses at the center of his firm's airy, open offices not far from Harvard Square. To his right, one of his architects is designing the New England Patriots Hall of Fame at Gillette Stadium, which will feature towering screens of projected moving images.
He points to another young architect who's plotting out a massive wall of Turkish cymbals to be woven together with lights and affixed behind the bar at the new Hard Rock Cafe at Faneuil Hall.
And hanging just in front of him, printed on large colorful poster boards, are the impressive renderings for Boston's much-anticipated Liberty Hotel, slated to open late this summer, on Cambridge Street. This one Kuttner is particularly excited about. Formerly home to the Charles Street Jail, the hotel -- which will preserve a number of the old cells -- will help transform the whole neighborhood, he says.
In fact, on all sides of him, in the form of computer-rendered schematics, models, and large-scale photo displays, is evidence of the myriad projects the 60-plus architects, designers, and staff are working on at Cambridge Seven Associates. As president of the 45-year-old company, Kuttner is, as longtime friend and colleague Carol Haper describes it, the firm's conscience and soul.
It is largely his vision that has steered C7A in recent years to do both big-name public projects -- the $47 million expansion of the Boston Children's Museum, for example -- and smaller jobs such as the sushi bar at the InterContinental Hotel. And it is Kuttner's approach that defines many of the firm's jobs. This is not ego-driven architecture meant to make critics swoon. No, frequently, he and his team are imagining and creating spaces for people who may not think about design much at all -- kids, harried parents, devoted sports fans, busy students. The way Kuttner sees it, it's his job to bring the usefulness and elegance of design to them.
Healing Garden, MGH
"All of our projects are public," says Kuttner, who's also working on renovations of the New England Aquarium and the Science Museum. "No speculative office buildings, no private homes. A lot of our work is concerned with how large groups of people have an experience."
Kuttner, 57, knows he works in a region increasingly drawn to "starchitects." Frank Gehry designed MIT's Stata Center. Norman Foster is slated to expand the Museum of Fine Arts. Renzo Piano has signed on to do the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Still, Kuttner is decidedly low key. Slightly round and balding, he dresses in oxford shirts, casual slacks, and loafers. Since 1989, he's lived in the same 10-room stucco Tudor in sleepy Winchester, where he still volunteers for a parent-run arts group, even though his youngest kid went off to college six years ago.
That understated, humble approach is what many say made him the perfect architect for a project like the Children's Museum. Across the way, on the Fan Pier, is the new Institute of Contemporary Art, a glass-walled monument to its architects, the New York-based Diller, Scofido + Renfro. Though it cost virtually the same amount, the Children's Museum project demanded a different touch. The challenge was to combine the existing, century-old factory building with a new, expanded space. The goals were more light, better flow for the kids and parents who make their way through the space each year, a connection to the water coursing just beyond its doors. Whether he and his team were creating an iconic landmark that would get a rave in Metropolis magazine wasn't part of the calculus.
"We wanted the building to feel new and fresh but it had to relate to the old building," said Neil Gordon, chief operating officer of the museum. "[Kuttner] understands what the visiting public wants to see and how they will react to the spaces and the exhibits, and he thinks and talks about it from the point of view of the people who are customers. That, I find, is really unique."
Peter Kuttner was born in Indiana but went to high school in Turkey, where his father worked for General Electric. He attended University of Michigan for both undergrad and graduate school, and joined C7A a couple of years later, in 1977, when he was 27. His first project with them was to design the Porter Square train station. The project marked the launch of Boston's "Arts on the Line" series. Kuttner himself chose to include Japanese artist Susumu Shingu's red, chaotic-motion wind fans high above the station.
Since then, Kuttner and the firm have circled the world many times for projects, but in recent years have tried to focus more on Boston-based work. His checklist for a job? It should serve some educational purpose, have a public component, and be beautiful. Perhaps most important, it has to be conducive to the sort of collaborative effort -- with both his clients and his colleagues -- that he thrives on.
Haper, a documentary photographer who has worked with Kuttner for 29 years, can't emphasize the last point enough.
"Peter is really hard to describe. He is unlike any other person that anyone I know has ever met. He is fascinated by everything in the world. He wants to know how things run, how people think," she says. "And he's an absolute genius. It's just that he doesn't have the ego to be a major architect in the sense of Phil Johnson or Richard Meier, because he believes in the people he works with and he believes in the team. He doesn't promote Peter Kuttner at all, ever."
His brother Phil agrees. Even though Peter is 10 years his senior, Phil remembers a brother who would go out of his way to include him, a brother who was constantly drawing and making things. He recalls especially the ornate pop-up cards that Kuttner would make for his friends and girlfriends. It remains one of Kuttner's favorite pastimes.
"I was just so amazed by the things he was doing," Phil says, "that I copied him" -- straight into architecture school. Now president of his own firm in Charlotte, N.C., Phil has been collaborating with his older brother on renovating a science museum there called Discovery Place.
Late on a recent Thursday, Kuttner settles down to a table in his glass-encased office. Though he doesn't spend much time sitting at a desk, the space clearly reflects who he is. Covering the length of the wall above his computer are mementos from his jobs, some of the templates for the intricate valentines he's handmade for colleagues over the years, family pictures, and iron-on patches he's collected from the colleges and museums he's worked with. Against the outside window is a series of shelves filled with a collection of gizmos and scientific toys. Most of them are spheres, which are his personal obsession.
As for Kuttner's take on all of this, he hesitates to reflect on his reputation, or the firm's cache, or the lengthy and growing list of high-profile projects they've scored.
Instead, he laughs, shares a thought or two about how magical it is to create, and then, finally, offers this: "I have trouble sometimes, not to be too delighted."
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