Archive for the 'noteworthy' Category

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The Hotel Commonwealth


Ken­more Square, Boston, has always had a rep­u­ta­tion for being a lit­tle bit seedy—much the way Times Square used to be. It boasts a major Sub­way inter­change, the best Ball­park in the Amer­i­can League, if not all of base­ball, and it used to be home to a diverse group of small busi­ness­es and restau­rants.

When I first moved to Ken­more Square, in 1996, there was a Methadone clin­ic, a punk-rock venue called the Rathskeller, a late-night restau­rant called Deli-haus, a grit­ty cof­fee house called Fuel, and a bunch of oth­er busi­ness­es housed in the clus­ter of Brow­stones on the oppo­site side of the Square. In 2003, chalk these land­marks into a new chap­ter of Lost Boston.

When Boston Uni­ver­si­ty pro­posed bull­doz­ing much of the south side of the square, and replac­ing the cen­tu­ry-old brown­stones with a “Euro­pean-style” hotel, city and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers large­ly sup­port­ed the idea… large­ly, I sus­pect, because BU was will­ing to pay gen­er­ous­ly to relo­cate affect­ed busi­ness­es with neigh­bor­hood asso­ci­a­tion ties, such as Cornwall’s Pub. Also, the uni­ver­si­ty is giv­ing mil­lions to upgrade the Sub­way sta­tion and traf­fic con­fig­u­ra­tion in the Square.

Whether or not you iden­ti­fy with my bemoan­ing the loss of a funky piece of an oth­er­wise bor­ing city, what is not in ques­tion is the pub­lic reac­tion when the work­ers final­ly unveiled the facade. For a hotel look­ing to project Con­ti­nen­tal lux­u­ry and flair, it looks like a repro­duc­tion on the back lot at Uni­ver­sal Stu­dios, or, per­haps, Main Street USA, Dis­ney­land. Tacky, cheap, and an insult to a city with tru­ly excep­tion­al archi­tec­ture.

I am not, I think, an elit­ist when it comes to archi­tec­ture… I think clas­si­cist ideals of style and mate­ri­als are prefer­able to 90% of all avant-garde rub­bish of the past 50 years. But, BU and the devel­op­ers cheat­ed by try­ing to copy the style of the French Sec­ond Empire, while using mate­ri­als com­mon on a Wal-Mart job site. Instead of lime­stone, let’s use fiber­glass. Brick too expen­sive? Sub­sti­tute fiber­glass for the real thing. And, the dorm­ers can just be cut-outs—I mean, who looks that close­ly, right?

The fact is, this hotel would look pret­ty good from your car on the Inter­state at 75 MPH, if it were locat­ed out in the sprawl belt of I‑495 and 128. It’s car­toon col­or and fea­tures would blur from the high­way strip. But, this hotel is in the heart of the city, with thou­sands of pedes­tri­ans walk­ing by each day. And it looks Mick­ey Mouse, com­pared with the sur­round­ing build­ings.

The pho­tos I took, unfor­tu­nate­ly, fail to show how bad the facade real­ly is. Trust me, it looks as if they were try­ing to save a few bucks… which is pre­cise­ly not the image you’re going for in a 4‑star hotel that wants to charge hun­dreds of dol­lars a night. Appar­ent­ly, BU and the devel­op­ers are going to spend $2 mil­lion to “fix” the facade. Good luck.

Public = Avant Garde ??

The ProposalsI read a lit­tle piece in the Times today con­cern­ing the two final­ists cho­sen by the LMDC for the World Trade Cen­ter, and I have a few reac­tions.

Let us read some of what Mr. Muschamp writes:

[Daniel Libe­skind’s design] is an emo­tion­al­ly manip­u­la­tive exer­cise in visu­al codes.

Alright. Does any ordi­nary user of the World Trade Cen­ter — work­er, tourist, sub­way rid­er, etc. — have any idea just what Mr. Muschamp is talk­ing about? Why has archi­tec­ture become this jar­gony realm of intel­lec­tu­al non­sense?

I don’t know. The death and destruc­tion of WWI caused a huge shift in West­ern val­ues, specif­i­cal­ly because sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy was employed so suc­cess­ful­ly in the killing of a gen­er­a­tion of men. In the decades after the war, the long-held ide­al­ized notion that tech­nol­o­gy would ush­er in peace and pros­per­i­ty was dashed, and many of the pre­vail­ing assump­tions in the arts were also vacat­ed. It was in this void that the Mod­ernists arrived– along with their avant garde aes­thet­ics and their intent to social engi­neer.

So what has Mod­ernism accom­plished? Well, not much good. We’ve still got the rich and poor, yet we have ugly civic space. For instance, the orig­i­nal WTC was a wind-swept, anar­chis­tic struc­ture, cut off, and hor­ri­bly out of scale from the sur­round­ing streets and neigh­bor­hood. When you stood in the Plaza look­ing up at the struc­tures, it was dif­fi­cult to feel any­thing but dread. In fact, that seems to be a pre­vail­ing require­ment of the Mod­ernists– your build­ing must impart DREAD. Unless, of course, you are one of the ini­ti­at­ed. You have to be edu­cat­ed for sev­en years at MIT to under­stand the beau­ty of the Bru­tal­ist form.

Any­way, back to Mr. Muschamp:

And… the longer I study Mr. Libe­skind’s design, the more it comes to resem­ble the bland­est of all the projects unveiled in the recent design study: the retro vision put forth by the New Urban­ist design­ers Peter­son Lit­ten­berg. Both projects trade on sen­ti­men­tal appeal at the expense of his­tor­i­cal aware­ness. Both offer visions of inno­cence ? nos­tal­gia, actu­al­ly.

Peter­son Lit­ten­berg is nos­tal­gic for Art Deco Man­hat­tan cir­ca 1928, before the stock mar­ket crash caused the Unit­ed States to aban­don the pre­vail­ing ide­ol­o­gy of social Dar­win­ism. Mr. Libe­skind’s plan is nos­tal­gic for the world of pre-Enlight­en­ment Europe, before reli­gion was exiled from the pub­lic realm.

This is always the argu­ment of these elite intel­lec­tu­als against clas­si­cism — that some­how, orna­ment, scale, pro­por­tion­al­i­ty and human­i­ty are to be despised as Impe­r­i­al. Now, obvi­ous­ly both plans are far from Clas­si­cism, but, in the inter­est of democ­ra­cy, why cry his­tori­cism when the alter­na­tive is intel­lec­tu­al­ized ugli­ness?

The gen­er­al pub­lic, I believe, longs for dig­ni­ty in pub­lic archi­tec­ture. I pre­fer the Think project, but the lat­tice work looks like Tin­ker­toy, and I find it tacky that they have pods with­in the lat­tice­work. How intim­i­dat­ing would it be to get in an ele­va­tor, and shoot up 100 floors to a “cul­tur­al space”, know­ing full well that there is noth­ing but air and Tin­ker­toy beneath you? Fright­en­ing. The Eif­fel Tow­er it is not.

No doubt what­ev­er gets built at the WTC site will be very mod­ern, and cut­ting-edge. It is my hope that it exem­pli­fies the dig­ni­ty and pur­pose human beings deserve and crave. Let the peo­ple choose, not the intel­lec­tu­als.

Zakim Bridge

I was futz­ing around in Pho­to­shop the oth­er day, in-between work­ing on some free­lance gigs… (it’s com­ing matt!)… and I cre­at­ed this lit­tle vec­tor­ized ver­sion of the new Charles riv­er bridge in Boston. I think it’s fab­u­lous that the city named it for Lenny Zakim, a civ­il rights activist and com­mu­ni­ty leader—especially giv­en that he passed-away in 1999.

I cer­tain­ly under­stand why gov­ern­ment build­ings and oth­er projects are named for WWII heroes and long-dead (some cor­rupt) politi­cians, but I’m encour­aged by this choice… It’s a mod­ern, per­son­al and mean­ing­ful choice.

Per­son­al­ly, I’m kind of ambiva­lent about all of this Big Dig stuff. Ele­vat­ed high­ways are evil, so I will be glad to see the Green Mon­ster come down. Still, what will be put in it’s place? And at what cost? The cur­rent plans call for most­ly green “open” space, sur­round­ed by sur­face roads that might have as many as 4 lanes. Whoa. Wait up. You’re replac­ing 8 lanes of ele­vat­ed high­way, with 8 lanes of mod­ern, wide-lane sur­face streets. Not to men­tion the 10 lanes under­ground.

It would be a mis­take to try and cor­rect the trans­porta­tion and urban renew­al mis­takes of the 1950s, by drop­ping a nar­row park in the mid­dle of all that asphalt. This city needs to knit back togeth­er the fab­ric of a neigh­bor­hood that was sheared in two. That means mod­er­ate­ly-scaled build­ings, shops, caf?s, side­walks and, in the mid­dle of all this: a park. Maybe with a foun­tain. And, you’ve got to min­i­mize traf­fic. Make it dif­fi­cult for cars to move through there.

Down­town Boston burned in 1872, so rein­vent­ing down­town is noth­ing new. I’d hate to think that this sce­nario would unfold: Devel­op­ers get to build tall, pri­vate sky­scrap­ers cut off from the street; the fire depart­ment gets wide traf­fic lanes; the tree-hug­gers get the rest as dead “open” space. That’s a recipe for a non-place. This should be the place… the des­ti­na­tion.

Basketcase City

Here is an inter­est­ing item in the Buf­fa­lo News… it seems for­mer may­or James D. “Jim­my” Grif­fin is start­ing a “grass-roots” cam­paign to recall his suc­ces­sor, May­or Masiel­lo. Just as Buf­fa­lo is start­ing to do the right things it needs to do to get out of finan­cial chaos, past specters respon­si­ble for the mess the city finds itself in are in are resur­fac­ing to reassert their influ­ence.

There is no mon­ey in the city cof­fers, and NY State is occu­pied with rebuild­ing NY City… yet Grif­fin finds it nec­es­sary to stir up pop­ulist anger at the mayor’s insis­tence that a city of 290,000 can­not afford 2‑man police cars.

Now, I’m sup­port­ive of unions, and labor in gen­er­al. But, they’ve got the city hijacked—it’s just not the city of half-mil­lion that it was in 1905. My sub­ur­ban child­hood town, Amherst, prob­a­bly has more class‑A office space that 10 Buf­fa­los… the reign­ing cul­ture there is one of the auto­mo­bile.

If You Build it, They Will Come
The State built the new cam­pus of the Uni­ver­si­ty at Buf­fa­lo—on unde­vel­oped land in Amherst in the 60s—in such a way as to con­fuse pedes­tri­ans. The park­ing lots and mega-steel-and-glass-box build­ings are on a scale unfath­omable to the pedes­tri­an. It could take you thir­ty min­utes to walk from the dor­mi­to­ries to class, and the only thing that sep­a­rates you are vast park­ing lots and curv­ing 8‑lane roads. This sort of destruc­tive and unprece­dent­ed plan­ning will make an ago­ra­phobe out of any­one that isn’t high on some­thing… There is no urban fabric—you can’t com­fort­ably walk down a block and buy a coke at the news stand on the way to sta­tis­tics. The street isn’t lined with a buffer of parked cars or trees to insu­late the pedes­tri­an from the street. No. This would be the tra­di­tion­al way of plan­ning. Are the streets planned at all?

The fact is, the only way the Uni­ver­si­ty at Buf­fa­lo makes any coher­ent sense is from 75 mph out your car win­dow on Inter­state-990, (inci­den­tal­ly a use­less, sprawl-induc­ing high­way built to link yet-to-be-built shod­dy cul-de-sacs north of the city, to the new cam­pus). And from a reac­tionary admin­is­tra­tive point of view, this kind of build­ing assures total con­trol over the “streets”, a wor­ry of these types in the tur­bu­lent 1960s.

A Cul­ture of Dash­boards
Where was I? Oh yes. The auto­mo­bile. The Cul­ture in Buf­fa­lo. It must be changed. Or at least mod­i­fied, and we’ve got to for once put an end to peo­ple like Jim­my Grif­fin. Irish politi­cians, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, have a par­tic­u­lar knack for killing cities for their own per­son­al gain. In my mind, James D. Grif­fin was the most cor­rupt city may­or of the past 25 years, eclipsed recent­ly only by Bud­dy Cian­ci in Prov­i­dence. His neigh­bor­hood cronies ran the city into the ground, going so far as to poi­son the man-made lake in Delaware Park, by dump­ing chem­i­cals such that it wouldn’t freeze for ice-skaters. No, Grif­fin is only inter­est­ed in tak­ing care of his clan in South Buf­fa­lo, and the whole damn rest of you can go fuck your­selves.

Speak­ing of his Irish clan, always mind­ful to under­line their white, and there­fore priv­i­leged sta­tus, the Irish politi­cians iden­ti­fy sta­tus sym­bols that might hide the oth­er­wise sad state of the city. The car, and sub­ur­ban devel­op­ment in gen­er­al, are pre­cise­ly their cho­sen sym­bols. They can’t nec­es­sar­i­ly move into a 4 bed-room McMan­sion in Amherst, how­ev­er they can afford a five-year old Chevy or Ford—and avoid tak­ing the sub­way or, god-for­bid, the bus sys­tem (which are pri­mar­i­ly employed by the African-Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion). They envy the new sub­ur­ban, car-ori­ent­ed devel­op­ment of strip malls and park­ing lots, and politi­cian like Grif­fin decid­ed that this was pre­cise­ly the kind of con­struc­tion need­ed in the city. What result­ed, was a mess. Dri­ve down main street from the 198 to down­town to see what i mean. You can lit­er­al­ly dri­ve through there with­out see­ing peo­ple on the street for blocks—and this is a 4‑lane road

Cities should be orga­nized to facil­i­tate sub­ur­ban­ite com­muters. Right? Well, this kind of thing isn’t going to be sus­tain­able in Mia­mi, Las Vegas, Philadel­phia or Detroit—much less Buf­fa­lo. In fact, the finan­cial real­i­ties that are start­ing to sur­face in less-off places like Buf­fa­lo should be a kind of warn­ing. We won’t always have cheap oil, and it should be evi­dent that cities actu­al­ly offer a healthy way of life. Walk to work. Ride a sub­way car with peo­ple from dif­fer­ent clans than you. Pre­serve our his­tor­i­cal build­ings, because they were built bet­ter than any build­ing in the past 50 years.

The Restora­tion
Walk to work? These sort of ideas belong to elites, and that explains why the Irish politi­cians (and oth­ers like James Pitts, the African-Amer­i­can Com­mon Coun­cil Pres­i­dent), resist efforts in this direc­tion. They’re too caught up in what they per­ceive to be sta­tus sym­bols, i.e., cars, krispy kremes, that they don’t real­ize that the health of the city and region depends on the health of its neigh­bor­hoods. And, yes Mr. Pitts, we will have to invest in the minor­i­ty neigh­bor­hoods. But until we put some mon­ey in the cof­fers, and work on erod­ing the per­cep­tion that cities are for non-car dri­ving pub­lic-hous­ing types. It’s a mania that can­not sus­tain itself.

Biography of an Architectural Icon

coverI start­ed read­ing this book, Divid­ed We Stand, a biog­ra­phy of the build­ing of the World Trade Cen­ter.

Writ­ten before the col­lapse on Sep­tem­ber 11, though informed by the ear­li­er bomb­ing in 1993, the author offers con­text and cul­tur­al com­ment on what was arguably the world’s most famous build­ing (were they one or two build­ings?). What is espe­cial­ly shock­ing is that not only was it one of the last cat­a­clysmic ‘urban-renew­al’ mega-schemes held over from the 60s, (it was com­plet­ed in 1972), that elim­i­nat­ed 16 blocks of low-income (though thriv­ing) com­mer­cial space, but also it was the largest gov­ern­ment-spon­sored real estate spec­u­la­tion in the his­to­ry of the world.

Man­aged by the Port Author­i­ty of NY & NJ, a dubi­ous orga­ni­za­tion, it was pitched as a ‘ver­ti­cal-port’, to replace the decay­ing ship­yards below, (which were trad­ed quid pro quo to NJ for their ‘ok’ to build the WTC). What it became, was a state-spon­sored play­thing for the Rock­e­feller broth­ers, (both Gov­er­nor Nel­son, and Chase Man­hat­tan CEO David). With mas­sive tax breaks for ten­ants, the city of New York lost mil­lions of dol­lars in tax rev­enue, and by the mid-1970s was bank­rupt.

Pres­i­dent Ford, at first, decid­ed to let NY wal­low, but polit­i­cal pres­sure forced him to orga­nize a bailout. Fun­ny. How could you con­sid­er let­ting America’s first city implode, and expect to get elect­ed as America’s first cit­i­zen?

Trains are better than Cars

buff-central-term-2.jpg
Cen­tral Sta­tion, Buf­fa­lo, NY, cir­ca 1930.

Presley’s sis­ter Kel­ly was in town this past week­end, and she left yes­ter­day on the Amtrak train from Back Bay Sta­tion, which got me think­ing about train sta­tions and trains in gen­er­al. Every­one in these New Urban­ist books that I read can’t fath­om how Amer­i­ca end­ed up wed­ded to the auto­mo­bile, while the Euro­peans remain con­tent­ed with trains.

I think it’s a sim­ple answer: after the war, we just could. It was the thing to do, and we had the resources. But, isn’t there some­thing won­der­ful about trains? And more impor­tant­ly, big city train sta­tions? Grand Cen­tral in Man­hat­tan is gor­geous. Mod­erin­ists moan on about how style should be down-played because it is the taste of eco­nom­ic elites, but I don’t care if putting a build­ing like that up was a cap­i­tal­ist show of wealth and power—it had beau­ty, craft­man­ship and it was a place where peo­ple of all races and incomes passed through. They destroyed Penn Sta­tion in the six­ties to put up Madi­son Square Gar­den. big whoop. If any­thing, MSG is more cap­i­tal­ist-mind­ed than the build­ing it replaced.

So, it brings me around to Buf­fa­lo and Kelly’s depar­ture… Ear­li­er in this cen­tu­ry, Buf­fa­lo actu­al­ly was in the top 5 for most rail­road track—Buffalo had indus­try, and it was locat­ed on the impor­tant route between new york and chica­go. The city built some beau­ti­ful train sta­tions (sub­se­quent­ly demol­ished), who’s archi­tec­ture seems won­der­ful­ly as grand as Grand Cen­tral itself. The last remain­ing sta­tion, Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal, still stands on the East Side, though it’s falling apart. I wish to God the city could find some new use for the facility—problem is, it is locat­ed in the most eco­nom­i­cal­ly depressed area of the city.

What Buffalo Was, and What it Should Be


If you’ve talked with me in the last few months, you know that I’ve tak­en an inter­est in Urban Plan­ning, and more specif­i­cal­ly those char­ac­ter­is­tics that make a good neigh­bor­hood and city. I don’t know why this sub­ject has peaked my inter­est, con­sid­er­ing I used to be in awe of places like Epcot and I grew up not far from strip-malls. But, I am deeply con­cerned about that place where I grew up, because the city of Buf­fa­lo is rot­ting at it’s core, while the end­less devel­op­ment of phar­ma­cy mini-malls, park­ing lots, and cul-de-sacs push­es far­ther out into the coun­try­side.

It used to be that Tran­sit Road was a mark­er or sorts—suburban devel­op­ment fell off notably in the town of Clarence. But now, Clarence and Lan­cast­er are becom­ing the newest sprawl sub­urbs. Hous­ing devel­op­ment is get­ting less and less dense, tak­ing up more and more land, and as a result, weak­en­ing com­mu­ni­ty ties. The goal in the Buf­fa­lo area these days, is to earn enough to “get yours”—which means a big house in the mid­dle of nowhere, with lousy archi­tec­ture, a big front yard, and curv­ing streets that don’t con­nect to oth­er devel­op­ments. You can’t walk to a cor­ner store, much less to work or school.

This, of course, means that cars must be used for any­thing and every­thing in Buffalo’s sub­urbs, and increas­ing­ly so in these new sub­urbs. Grow­ing up, I could walk or ride my bike to a cor­ner store, a super­mar­ket, a pizze­ria, a k‑mart and a bagel shop. For kids grow­ing up in Loch Lea and oth­er devel­op­ments fur­ther out, this is sim­ply not an option—a ride from mom or dad is required, and an (unhealthy) depen­dence is born. Also, you spend much of your ear­ly teenage years look­ing for old­er friends, or pin­ing for that 16th birth­day, when mom and dad will pro­vide you with a car. There is a sense of enti­tle­ment that comes in such a place.

Buf­fa­lo, how­ev­er, wasn’t always so bleak. The Buf­fa­lo of my Grandmother’s youth was a vibrant and busy city. Look at some of these pho­tographs… Street­cars zipped up and down major avenues, auto­mo­biles co-exist­ed with pedes­tri­ans, com­mer­cial streets had first-floor store­fronts with apart­ments above, and you knew your neigh­bor, butch­er and neigh­bor­hood cop. I don’t want to sen­ti­men­tal­ize what was, but I think peo­ple under­stood that there was an art to build­ing neighborhoods—an art that seems to have been lost in post-war, post-indus­tri­al Buf­fa­lo. The pow­er­ful sub­ur­ban devel­op­ers like Ciminel­li, don’t build per­ma­nent places to live. They think that there is no mon­ey to be made in tra­di­tion­al (that is to say, mixed-use) neigh­bor­hoods. Every­thing is this set-back-from-the-street, bas­tardized mod­ernist, flat-roof, sin­gle-floor, hor­i­zon­tal mon­stros­i­ty, with 5 park­ing spots out front for every 1 cus­tomer.

I know I’m tak­ing hyper­bol­ic license here, but I do it only because the pre­vail­ing assump­tions are so ingrained and accept­ed that you almost need to shock peo­ple to wake them up.

We’ve been liv­ing in the age of the auto­mo­bile. Traf­fic engi­neers say we need to widen roads and inter­sec­tions to decrease traf­fic and increase traf­fic vol­ume. Every major study of road­way “improve­ments” shows that more lanes = more cars. By widen­ing a road like Tran­sit, you are actu­al­ly cre­at­ing more traf­fic in the long-run. Even Robert Moses real­ized this in 1939, when traf­fic con­ges­tion cropped up on his high­ways where there was pre­vi­ous­ly no prob­lem. You induce traf­fic, by build­ing more lanes. And, these wide inter­sec­tions you see on Tran­sit and oth­er roads, are less safe than nar­row­er, more tra­di­tion­al inter­sec­tions. Here in Boston, despite our rep­u­ta­tion for crazy dri­ving, there are rarely any acci­dents at all, due to our small blocks, odd inter­sec­tions and lack of sprawl.

Still, there is hope. I think the eco­nom­ic pres­sures that 50 years of this kind of devel­op­ment has wrought on Buf­fa­lo is start­ing to change people’s minds about liv­ing and work­ing in close prox­im­i­ty. I hope envi­ron­men­tal, and eco­nom­ic real­i­ties force the city and it’s coun­ty of sub­urbs to draw a line in the sand (and the geog­ra­phy), and say enough is enough. It’s not about Growth vs. anti-Growth. It’s about Smart Growth. Banks, devel­op­ers and city & town offi­cials need to be shown that it is prefer­able to ditch this fast-decay­ing sub­ur­ban strip-mall way of doing things. If we are going to do this, the state needs to step in and set up stronger region­al gov­ern­ment. Many peo­ple fear this, as being ‘more gov­ern­ment’, when in actu­al­i­ty it could save mon­ey by elim­i­nat­ing redun­dant ser­vices.

But there is pow­er­ful resis­tance to any kind of region­al plan­ning.

Jane Jacobs Changed My Life… or, Modernists Should Die

What makes a good neigh­bor­hood? I’ve start­ed read­ing every­thing I can get my hands on regard­ing urban plan­ning and issues sur­round­ing sprawl, and I think it’s so inspir­ing that Jane Jacobs had it all fig­ured out in 1961. I think it would not be mag­nan­i­mous to say that she saved Green­wich Vil­lage from becom­ing anoth­er Robert Moses high­way. Check out this dis­cus­sion about Jane’s life and the state of urban plan­ning. (Real Audio)

As a design­er, I’ve always loved mod­ernist design — it’s big, it’s human­ist in the sense that it is utopi­an and egal­i­tar­i­an, and it shows off our won­der­ful tech­nol­o­gy. Look at Empire Plaza in Albany, NY, and you can’t help but think that we are capa­ble of amaz­ing things. How­ev­er, this HUGE plaza is most­ly use­less, except on sun­ny days dur­ing noon and 1pm, when work­ers might stroll out­side for fresh air. Nev­er­mind that there aren’t any delis or con­ve­nience stores with­in a 5 minute walk. Also, think of a place like this in the evening, or at night. Dead. I’ve been there! Prob­a­bly unsafe. But the 19th cen­tu­ry State Capi­tol is won­der­ful, and human-scaled. One might imag­ine shops or restau­rants on the sur­round­ing streets. It’s dig­ni­fied, and wor­thy of a civic build­ing. I think our post-60s mis­trust of gov­ern­ment makes us think that spend­ing the mon­ey and time to build last­ing mon­u­ments to pub­lic life is some­how waste­ful or bad. Albany Dan’s own neigh­bor­hood (not far from Empire Plaza) is a tes­ta­ment to How We Used to Do Things. It’s a mish­mash of income lev­els and uses. It’s won­der­ful too.

Urban renew­al is a fuck­ing sham. No news there. Look at Boston’s own place of civic activ­i­ty, city hall. Mod­ernist archi­tects can argue all they want about the ‘great­ness’ of build­ings and plazas like this, but I doubt any­one but a few intel­lec­tu­als actu­al­ly appre­ci­ate it as such. (Myself includ­ed) It flies in the face of hun­dreds of years of prece­dent and exper­tise, and yet we call it ‘bril­liant’. Lis­ten to the archi­tec­t’s own words:

Kall­mann: ‘We dis­trust and have react­ed against an archi­tec­ture that is absolute, unin­volved and abstract. We have moved towards an archi­tec­ture that is spe­cif­ic and con­crete, involv­ing itself with the social and geo­graph­ic con­text, the pro­gram, and meth­ods of con­struc­tion, in order to pro­duce a build­ing that exists strong­ly and irrev­o­ca­bly, rather than an uncom­mit­ted abstract struc­ture that could be any place and, there­fore, like mod­ern man’ with­out iden­ti­ty or pres­ence.”

Does the build­ing and plaza cre­ate a good urban space? nope. The lan­guage itself is specif­i­cal­ly craft­ed to sound unin­tel­li­gi­ble, and to ele­vate the archi­tect to the sta­tus of some Ayn Ran­di­an demi-God. Even the weird geom­e­try of the plaza is psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly unset­tling, not to men­tion what I feel from the build­ing itself. There is some­thing pro­found­ly anti-social in a build­ing that is set back from the street so far with that much brick. The ‘style’, (if the mod­ernists let you call it that), is Bru­tal­ist Mod­ern, for christ’s sake.