Tag Archive for 'development'

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.