01 April 2009

Boston

I wasn't going to spend 10 days in New York and not even make an attempt to go to close by Boston and meet another one of my good friends from architecture school. So after Gaurav, Avani and Dharam left New York I made a quick one day trip to catch up with Ninad. And since I had never been there before I had a lot of good architecture to catch up to as well.


I arrived there late in the evening and caught up with Ninad and planned what to see the next day - my main focuses were the campuses of MIT and Harvard, anything beyond that was going to be a bonus.


I started the morning at the MIT campus, where Ninad drew out a route for me through the campus -


starting at the beautiful chapel by Ero Saarinen.


Past the main auditorium also designed by Ero.


Next to the elegant student housing designed by Alvar Aalto

(as I stood in front of this project my mind was instantly transported from a very grey and wet Cambridge to sunny Helsinki exactly as I remembered the other works by this master architect)

Then to a contemporary rendering of the same programme by Steven Holl.

I'm not sure what to think of this housing! I liked it a lot more in reality than I did it in magazines and books, yet I miss the subtlety of Aalto or even Holl's own work in Helsinki.

This building seems to designed in a very lazy fashion check this horrible entrance canopy for instance.

Anyhow moving on, now past the halls and courtyards of the main block to this relatively small building by I M Pei, once again a triangular site (like his museum in Washington D C). I'm now wondering if Pei is unable to think in forms other than triangles either in plan or elevation (Think of his D C museum, Louvre and MIA in Doha)?

Nonetheless a nice building in exposed concrete, extremely rational and calm.

Right behind the calmness of Pei is the most monstrous building I have seen so far! How the hell? Or rather why the hell did MIT decide to built this building by Frank Gehry on it's otherwise sensible campus is a question that for sure has disturbed many people who either study or visit this place. All I have to say is - 'But why?'. The only reason I can think of is the eternal argument of the city of Dubai - 'Why not?

Next, a building designed by my old boss - Charles Correa. The McGovern Institute for Brain Research is probably one of the best works by the legendary Indian architect (at least the best by him in the last 10 years).

It's a combination of Pei's wonder in DC (in response to a difficult site);

Correa's own free flowing curves like in his earlier projects (eg. MRF HQ in Chennai)

and a lot of restraint (to tackle Gehry's outrage across the road).

The main atrium space is also interesting - though I wonder if Charles is trying too many things. That was my last stop at MIT.

I then headed to the Harvard campus, here I walked thru the Harvard Yard (which is the oldest part and the center of the campus of the University) to the Harvard Science Center designed by Josep Lluis Sert.

From here I walked to the Graduate school of design's Gund hall designed by John Andrews. The building is basically one huge stepped studio space for all its students and everything else is tucked away below it, a few friends who have studied here tell me it's a great environment to study in.

Next stop was to see the only building in North America to be designed by Le Corbusier - The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. This building has a very similar look and feel to the Mill owner's association building in Ahmadabad (which is one of my favorite buildings in the world), but this one has an even more interesting relationship with its landscape.

Here Corbusier uses the long external ramp leading into the heart of the building more successfully, almost as a public street through the building rather than only to it (as in Ahmadabad). But that's also because this was always intended to be a far more Urban/Public project than the Mill owner's association.

As a user of the building you can enter it at many different location both in plan and section, almost blurring the boundary between it's inside and the landscape around it. This being one of his last designs to be built and also his only work in the US, Corbusier has really tried to design a building that showcased all his design principles. It is possible to see in this one project glimpses of a lot of his other built and unbuilt works.

Sadly however the horribly wet weather of Cambridge made it difficult for me to spend as much time as I would have liked walking around this great project and really exploring how Corbusier dealt with each corner and facade of the Carpenter center in relation to is context. I then headed back to the Metro station - to take shelter from the rain and - to try to catch a glimpse of Boston.

Unfortunately on almost all my trips I end up unable to see atleast one important project because I picked the wrong day of the week, this time it was the Institute of Contemporary Art‎ which is closed on Monday - my only day in Boston. This museum was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and like their Alice Tully hall in NY this too is a building that actively engages with it's context, in this case the historic harbor area of the city.

The ICA sits on the edge of the water with its overall form facing or rather leaning towards the inner harbor like an audience in an auditorium facing the stage (in fact if you were in the main auditorium that is literally what happens the water in the harbor is the stage).

I can only imagine that the building with all its levels and ramped spaces would offers many interesting perspectives to its context,

probably offering similar experiences as that of walking through the Kunsthal in Rotterdam (a building by OMA that has to be the best contemporary gallery/museum space I have seen). It's a real pity I couldn't get in this time!

I then headed to the city centre walking past the Big Dig - a project that Ninad had explained to me the previous night as a crazy project undertaken to save the city from a major elevated highway that was a traffic nightmare and had also split the city in half - starting in 1990s a lot of money was invested (I just read online that it turned out to be the most expensive highway project in the US) in putting this highway underground, increasing its capacity, helping ease the traffic problems, reconnecting the city with its harbor and also reclaim large tracks of land for public parks and squares.

Since I am a fan of brutalist Architecture i had to see the Boston's notorious bunch of brutalist buildings (the city hall and the government service centre) before I called it a day!


The city hall designed by Gerhard Kallmann, Noel McKinnell and Edward Knowles in a nationwide competition in 1962 makes strong references to Corbusier's La Tourette monastery and could be considered one of the most emblematic examples of Brutalism.

It is one of Boston's most hated buildings, the current mayor is working hard to get it knocked down.

Close by the another Brutalist building - this time even bigger - the huge government service center was designed by Paul Rudolph (who designed the Architecture building at Yale where he was dean for six years). This building reminded me a lot of the barbican centre in London (one of my favourite projects in London)

but this one was probably a bit too brutal - the corrugated and roughened concrete (aka corduroy concrete) is a bit difficult to handle even for this brutalist lover!

I then had to stop, it was no longer possible to digest any more architecture! I could handle any more new stuff, so I decided to head back to meet Ninad before I left Boston... Of course I couldn't resist clicking a few night photos at the MIT campus...



Oh... that was a lot of good architecture for one day!

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