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Old 05-01-2015, 08:14 PM   #41
datadyne007
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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Barcode Project by The Globetrotting Photographer


e-Architecture

Barcode Project in Oslo, a new midrise business district. All around the Sea Port's 250 foot height limit as well. We are getting royally screwed, at least on the Waterfront IMO.
Hah PWC!!

But seriously, all of that is dreadful. Just awful. Honestly I'd prefer the Seaport.
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Old 05-01-2015, 08:32 PM   #42
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

The density and lot sizes are nicer, but I don't really see how the architecture itself is better; except for variety. That one with the shattered window pattern is terrible in my eyes. Glad we're not getting something like that...
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Old 05-01-2015, 08:39 PM   #43
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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The density and lot sizes are nicer
I disagree. I don't think they're any better than the Seaport. Plus, the streetscape/activation there looks horrendous.
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Old 05-01-2015, 08:39 PM   #44
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

I do agree the more I look at the shattered window one the worse it looks but the rest look better to me. And i think it is mostly the variety in heights and building size being smaller.
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Old 05-01-2015, 09:16 PM   #45
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

Thanks shawn! That's almost exactly what I'm talking about.

As for "What can ya do about it?!" *shrug*

We can talk about it. And articles like this help. I know developers are bottom line focused but they are (I think) human beings as well. I would like to think that with enough criticism it might somehow sink in past their thick, scaly shells and hurt their pride just a bit? Maybe?

Edit: Or you could ignore my babbling and watch this video. (I don't agree with all of it but it makes some really good points)

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Old 05-01-2015, 10:04 PM   #46
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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I know Rachel quite well. You need not read the tea leaves on what was going on in her head. Statler has already expressed it. The article is a great conversation-starter, meant to get us rushing to defend our respective tribal lines. And she's from Philly, hence its praise very early in the piece.

I will confess to being a victim of "at least it ain't a parking lot anymore" as much as anyone. She's right: a lot of our buildings are lame. I think we need to finish building a lame city before we can build a beautiful one. The difference between Boston and all the cities she compares us to is that we never finished Manhattanizing the core. Now that we are, we *need* to apparently do it wrong first before we can get it right.
And I know you quite well, KJ--so I guess I've met Rachel at one of your happenings. I do recall she was the one who wrote the "The BRA must be abolished" piece in the June '13 BoMag, so yes, we certainly know where she stands.

Anyway, KJ, as your friend, I urge you--and of course everyone else on this board--to please, please stop using such grossly superficial generalizations as "Manhattanization." It's such a blunt instrument. First of all, can it even have separate valences--can there be "good Manhattanization" juxtaposed on the same block to "bad Manhattanization"? And how much "Manhattanization" has Manhattan itself even been subjected to? Probably not a lot, I'm guessing--further demonstrating what a vapid and intellectually lazy dismissal it is.

The day Manhattan finishes "Manhattanizing" its "core" is the day it becomes a Blade Runner-style dystopia which no other developers will want to develop in. Manhattan developers like developing there right now because they have a strong confidence that enough of a critical mass of charming historic pre-WWII stock, be it Art Deco, Gothic Revival, French Empire, Beaux Arts, what have you, will be preserved so that a pleasing diversity will always exist, creating appealing juxtapositions. Ditto for Boston.

Finally, just to flip the argument on its head--when you say "Boston never finished Manhattanizing its core"--I think you actually way underacknowledge just how much density and height was created by the "High Spine" push during the Kevin White mayoral administration of 1968-84. Remember, pre-1968, we had two skyscrapers, the Custom House and the Pru. From 1968-84, we embarked on a massive skyscraper building spree, which will never remotely be rivalled again in any other administration.


One Boston Pl. (1970)
100 Federal St. (1971)
100 Summer St. (1974)
Hancock Tower (1971)
1 Beacon St. (1971)
Federal Reserve tower (1977)
60 State St. (1977)
1 PO Sq. (1981)
Devonshire Pl. (1983)
1 Financial Ctr. (1983)
Exchange Pl. (1984)


The results I leave for others to judge, but to a certain extent, I think one could argue somewhat that everything post-1984 is kind of footnotes to the Kevin White era bonanza... which is now more than 30 years in the rearview mirror.
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Old 05-01-2015, 11:17 PM   #47
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

Project Barcode in Oslo gets mixed reactions from Oslo citizens, so I'm not surprised some people here dislike it. From what I have heard on SSP (never been myself), street activation has a ways to go - although it is built over a large railroad yard which used to be a no-mans land, ala the Seaport. Ultimately, architectural preferences will vary from person to person, just as no two people see the same "red".

But I don't see how anyone could prefer our current Seaport cut-and-paste cubes to these. Substantially more varied materials, properly-scaled density, surface interactions, and above all, setbacks.
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Old 05-01-2015, 11:29 PM   #48
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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Project Barcode in Oslo gets mixed reactions from Oslo citizens, so I'm not surprised some people here dislike it. From what I have heard on SSP (never been myself), street activation has a ways to go - although it is built over a large railroad yard which used to be a no-mans land, ala the Seaport. Ultimately, architectural preferences will vary from person to person, just as no two people see the same "red".

But I don't see how anyone could prefer our current Seaport cut-and-paste cubes to these. Substantially more varied materials, properly-scaled density, surface interactions, and above all, setbacks.
Setbacks just reduce floor area on sites already limited on space because of the height restriction. Uniform plateaus are not bad things in the slightest. Hell, most of Berlin is 5-7 story buildings. Pick any other historical city in Europe and you'll find the same. It's what happens at the ground that counts. What Project Barcode does is interject all of these competing mismashes of cliche styles and massing into a tight area. It just comes out as a mess. I think the Seaport, despite having dull architecture, will ultimately read far more as a whole than Project Barcode because of the massing.
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Old 05-02-2015, 02:04 AM   #49
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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Setbacks just reduce floor area on sites already limited on space because of the height restriction.
From a bottom-line perspective, true. And I guess that's all that really matters here.

But I'd say your Berlin comparison leaves out what I feel is a critical detail: all those 5-7 story blocks have setbacks in elevation for their top floors. It makes a huge difference.


source


source

Same with Paris, Prague, The Hague, Hannover, especially Vienna . . . it's those top two-three floors of setbacks on a 7 story block that lets in light and adds visual height via tapering. On a 20 story building, 4-5 floors of setbacks would be fine. Doesn't have to happen on every Seaport building, but holy heck, is just one building with setbacks or some curves asking too much?
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Old 05-02-2015, 02:07 PM   #50
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

Shawn, I totally agree. And am continually dismayed by the development of the seaport. That Oslo scene....oy....Looks like a shelf of goods from a cheap department store.
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Old 05-02-2015, 11:12 PM   #51
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

I just found the time to read through that (far too) long article. Ms. Slade sounds ... like she doesn't get out of Boston much. I certainly don't disagree that too much of contemporary Boston architecture is crap (and certainly I think almost all of it is on the Seaport ... though I'm happy as hell we at least don't have massive vacant lots there any more).

But she's wrong in suggesting this is a *Boston* problem. It's not; it's a global problem - and it's a problem of Modernism.

Slade tells us that cities like New York or Chicago or Philly (!) build better buildings than Boston. I live in New York. I think Boston has become the "nicer" city of the two at this point (in terms of being all-around more gentrified and "nice"). And I know Boston has the overall better architecture (these things are linked). Yes, NYC has its super-star buildings around the High Line. But those pale in quantity to the non-High Line-caliber buildings that get built here. NYC's most prolific architect is a certain war criminal known as Gene Kaufman. Believe me, there is NOTHING - I repeat, NOTHING - in Boston that can hold a candle to the level of hideousness with which Gene Kaufman and dozens like him pollute formerly beautiful neighborhoods.

Slade utterly fails to say what *would* be better. We hear a lot about how terrible Boston is (with few concrete examples other than the Seaport and 30 Dalton). But there is no clear description of what is "good" for her. Instead, we get a few random-seeming, and highly debateable, examples: New York (per above), Chicago's Soldier Field (derided by many as a failure), and, in the photo page at the end, some truly bizarre/hideous buildings designed by Boston firms for East Asian clients as well as 2 small-lot funky buildings best described as "twee" and certainly not on applicable for any large urban commercial structure.

The fact is, there really isn't any place on earth that does contemporary architecture *that* much better. Contemporary architecture in Copenhagen or Berlin is better on the whole ... but a lot of what goes up there does look like that Oslo development - i.e., better materials than what we get most likely, but not better architecture. Which is to say: Contemporary architecture on the whole is pretty poor.

There are really two factors behind the ugliness of contemporary architecture, and neither is specific to Boston: Modernism and economics.

Modernism - which today's architects "cling to" (per our president) more fanatically than anyone in Saudi Arabia does to Islam, or, on a more peaceful note, than anyone in Alabama does to Southern Baptism - is not attractive to humans. Its devoid of charm; it's the most basic, dull shapes. Sure, a new piece of Modernism (take Renzo Piano's Whitney) can be thrilling, but only because it's new and shiny. When its sheen wears off, a Modernist building is, well, ugly.

Regarding economics, there are some facts we won't get away from. Like the fact that real estate development has become highly professional; and most buildings today are put up by highly professional developers rather than companies (if a company owns its building - like Novartis in Cambridge (?) to Slade's example - its more incented to drop the margin on the building's construction and invest more in a building that buffs its image) or less professional developers as was the case in the past.

The one thing that Boston royally screwed up, IMO, is the lot sizes in the Seaport. We can't get around Modernism until architects give up their fanatacism toward it - in addition to being worshiped by architects, Modernism is handily also the cheapest form of architecture to build, so developers on their own won't move toward more-attractive buildings any time soon. And we can't get around margin-oriented developers looking to skimp on design and materials.

But the Seaport - Boston's largest experiment in contemporary architecture - could easily have been rezoned toward smaller lots, or rebuilt around narrower streets. That result, maybe, would have led toward something closer to the best examples of contemporary architecture that can be found in places like Copenhagen or Berlin: glassy and Modernist, yes, but nicely filling lots, with ground retail and human-scale neighborhoods. That - the city planning element - is where Boston went wrong in the Seaport specifically.

But even then, we'd still have wound up with shiny-but-ephemeral Modernism, and the rest of the city's new construction would be moving as it is. Which is to say no worse - and a good deal better, IMO - than other US cities, and worse (due to lot size and materials quality) than the best of the breed in Northern Europe ... but not by that much.

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Old 05-03-2015, 08:05 PM   #52
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

All good points being made here, but I just don't really get the discussion. Boston is not an ugly city. It is often recognized as an extremely beautiful city (gritty Irish mobster movies notwithstanding). What Boston is, architecturally, is a boring city. Yes there are a few ugly buildings; but those tend to be urban renewal era, not the stuff that goes up today (boring, typically not ugly).

Do we want more exciting architecture? What do we even mean by that?
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Old 05-03-2015, 08:24 PM   #53
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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All good points being made here, but I just don't really get the discussion. Boston is not an ugly city. It is often recognized as an extremely beautiful city (gritty Irish mobster movies notwithstanding). What Boston is, architecturally, is a boring city. Yes there are a few ugly buildings; but those tend to be urban renewal era, not the stuff that goes up today (boring, typically not ugly).

Do we want more exciting architecture? What do we even mean by that?
Honestly, I think the vast majority of people (i.e. architecture laymen) just want buildings that look nice. Basically that can be achieved by better building materials so that new buildings don't look cheap as hell.

I personally don't want "exciting". I'm a layman. I see examples of "exciting architecture" (as defined by architecture nerds on here) and I viscerally hate it. I'm fine with "boring" as long as it's not "cheap boring". I'll happily take some creative towers, but I don't want a city filled with buildings like that shatter window pattern one in Oslo just because it's "exciting".
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Old 05-03-2015, 10:10 PM   #54
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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Do we want more exciting architecture? What do we even mean by that?
As others have noted, no city has consistently great architecture. What many great cities of the world have, however, are a few iconic gems capable of really capturing and holding your attention. I think Boston never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity--we rarely get the chance to "make a statement" in terms of scale and when we do, the answer seems to be a big glass slab. Or worse.
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Old 05-03-2015, 10:41 PM   #55
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

The article is inherently flawed from the get go, simply because of the use of "ugly." Ugly is entirely subjective and it's never clearly articulated, muddled even further by the examples she gives.
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Old 05-03-2015, 11:39 PM   #56
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

First off, sloppy fact-checking, Boston Magazine. Not only is it "The Architectural Team" but they are actually in Chelsea, not Cambridge, unless they moved recently.

I think this article is entirely unfair to Kairos Shen, who has worked hard in a variety of political climates to make good things happen in Boston.

The basic issue is that, after some disasterous modernist buildings (and City Hall is not the worst of them, look at the state building right nearby as well as the federal building and the Government Center garage), Boston had a hangover. And, like most New England cities, it turned to comfort-food architecture for relief. No easier way to get a building approved in New England than to built it of brick, or at least a non-offensive "moderny yet traditional" style.

Cutting edge will involve some mistakes along the way. It's so hard to get anything built in Boston that developers don't want to risk offending. No way around it unless you want to reduce exposure to public input or abutter lawsuits, which there seems to be little interest in doing right now.
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Old 05-04-2015, 09:24 AM   #57
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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As others have noted, no city has consistently great architecture. What many great cities of the world have, however, are a few iconic gems capable of really capturing and holding your attention. I think Boston never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity--we rarely get the chance to "make a statement" in terms of scale and when we do, the answer seems to be a big glass slab. Or worse.
I think that argument really only holds for tall buildings, and even then, I'm not sure about it. I'm not in love with Millennium Tower, but people seem to like it. One Dalton is a statement building. The Hancock is a statement building. The Tree House is a statement building.

What Boston doesn't have is the statement civic building that uses the harbor, the River, or some other scenic location to appear on a bunch of postcards. Sydney is an example of how much good that can do (its skyline is pretty boring, but when was the last time you looked at the buildings?). It also doesn't have such a dramatic setting that it takes your eye off the buildings, like San Francisco, Seattle, or Vancouver can manage.

Since we can't magically move a mountain range onto 495, the real missed opportunity isn't a skyscraper, it's that City Hall, the Aquarium, the Museum of Science, etc. are all such dull crap. The art museums are better, but they aren't situated where people can see them (even the ICA, which can only really be viewed with the boring seaport stumps behind it). Imagine if the MOS actually had the ability to build a structure worthy of that location, or if MIT could be persuaded to build their starchitect museum there instead of in Kendall where it will be invisible from the river.
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Old 05-04-2015, 10:28 AM   #58
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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Honestly, I think the vast majority of people (i.e. architecture laymen) just want buildings that look nice. Basically that can be achieved by better building materials so that new buildings don't look cheap as hell.

I personally don't want "exciting". I'm a layman. I see examples of "exciting architecture" (as defined by architecture nerds on here) and I viscerally hate it. I'm fine with "boring" as long as it's not "cheap boring". I'll happily take some creative towers, but I don't want a city filled with buildings like that shatter window pattern one in Oslo just because it's "exciting".
Good point. To be honest, if 80% of new buildings are brick or brick-toned, I have to admit... I am OK with that. Not because I have NIMBY or pearl-clutching tendencies, but because Boston is a city with a unique fabric, and that fabric is worth preserving. Since the disaster of urban renewal, we've been doing this extremely well. Really, what's going on in Fort Point, for instance, or residential Southie for that matter, is rather magical. It's the tabula-rasa areas like the Seaport, Northpoint, Alewife, etc. where we struggle because there's little in the way of cohesive existing fabric to work from. I believe that even if the Seaport were planned with a better street grid and smaller parcels, we'd still be facing this same issue.

But I think we're moving in the right direction. You may dislike its character, but places like Marina Bay in Quincy at least have character. Assembly Square may be a glorified mall, but it's vastly better TOD than we've ever managed. Kendall was really an office park, as we all lamented, even as recently as five years ago. Today it's a real and growing mixed-use neighborhood, and one that I think can now legitimately take on the designation of "Downtown Cambridge." The Seaport is full of stumps, but what's been built and what's being built right on the edge of the water is rather good (Liberty Wharf, the Fan Pier residential, the Pier 4 plan, etc) and the restaurant and retail mix is filling out well. The streetscapes are still decrepit messes, but they can and probably will be reworked in the next 10 years.

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I think that argument really only holds for tall buildings, and even then, I'm not sure about it. I'm not in love with Millennium Tower, but people seem to like it. One Dalton is a statement building. The Hancock is a statement building. The Tree House is a statement building.

What Boston doesn't have is the statement civic building that uses the harbor, the River, or some other scenic location to appear on a bunch of postcards. Sydney is an example of how much good that can do (its skyline is pretty boring, but when was the last time you looked at the buildings?). It also doesn't have such a dramatic setting that it takes your eye off the buildings, like San Francisco, Seattle, or Vancouver can manage.

Since we can't magically move a mountain range onto 495, the real missed opportunity isn't a skyscraper, it's that City Hall, the Aquarium, the Museum of Science, etc. are all such dull crap. The art museums are better, but they aren't situated where people can see them (even the ICA, which can only really be viewed with the boring seaport stumps behind it). Imagine if the MOS actually had the ability to build a structure worthy of that location, or if MIT could be persuaded to build their starchitect museum there instead of in Kendall where it will be invisible from the river.
I'd say that Boston's "opera house" is the Custom House Tower. Maybe it doesn't have the worldwide recognition as the Golden Gate Bridge, but I think says Boston better than anything else. (In some ways the Zakim bridge is becoming something like the Golden Gate, although I personally find it rather silly.)
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Old 05-04-2015, 01:02 PM   #59
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

Boston has NO visual icon whatsoever. If you grew up in or around Boston, you might find this hard to believe, but any and all candidates for what is iconic about Boston were completely unrecognizable to be before moving here. The customs tower? Really? I don't think I looked at it twice before reading aB.

The closest things are maybe Paul Revere Statue with the Old North Church in the background or the Citgo sign. Actually, the Citgo sign is the best candidate and that is horribly embarrassing.

Honestly - if you were playing pictionary with people who had never been to Boston, what on earth would you draw in 30 seconds to represent this city. There is nothing.
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Old 05-04-2015, 02:45 PM   #60
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Re: Why is Boston So Ugly?

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Boston has NO visual icon whatsoever. If you grew up in or around Boston, you might find this hard to believe, but any and all candidates for what is iconic about Boston were completely unrecognizable to be before moving here. The customs tower? Really? I don't think I looked at it twice before reading aB.

The closest things are maybe Paul Revere Statue with the Old North Church in the background or the Citgo sign. Actually, the Citgo sign is the best candidate and that is horribly embarrassing.

Honestly - if you were playing pictionary with people who had never been to Boston, what on earth would you draw in 30 seconds to represent this city. There is nothing.
Hasn't the Zakim Bridge sort of taken that mantle? At least from the perspective of live television remotes, the bridge has become a fairly standard and expected backdrop.
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