Grabbing some inspiration

Looking a bit like the future

Trips to other cities are always inspirational; you can learn firsthand what others are doing to improve public space and to promote good design. First Cambridge, MA, where a huge part of North Cambridge is slated for redevelopment thanks in part to the booming biotech sector cropping up around MIT to the west. Above is the Northpoint development, with recently finished residential midrise buildings facing a park on reclaimed industrial land (designer: Michael Van Valkenburg Associates). While earlier office construction in the area has been criticized for being single-use, with relatively dead streets at night, Northpoint is conceived as a mixed-use neighborhood adjacent to a subway stop and served by bus and bike routes. The feel of the park, and the two buildings constructed thus far, reminded me of Railroad Park here and its own hoped-for future as the center of a mixed-use new neighborhood.

Big thinking

While Northpoint is an example of urban planning on a large scale (model of the proposed full development pictured above), you see results of smaller decisions around Cambridge that also help create a vibrant streetscape. For instance, the city funded the restoration of the sign below in Central Square, deeming it an important part of the urban fabric (the store owner couldn’t afford to do so on his own):

Unique illuminated projecting signs = good

Over in Allston, a Boston neighborhood, Machado and Silvetti have designed new Harvard Graduate Student Housing, a witty reinterpretation of the traditional Harvard Georgian (and neo-Georgian) quad layout. Seen below, Harvard brick is used in a contemporary way, cladding different wings forming a courtyard facing the river. Not too shabby for dorm life.

Provocative architecture bolsters academic reputation

The Institute of Contemporary Art, facing Boston Harbor downtown, is seen in the two shots below. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, its relationship to a (foggy) Boston Harbor is pretty sublime.

Mass and light

Amazing view, even in the fog

Finally, our trusted friend Austin, TX. Treated to a very tasty dinner at Lamberts downtown in the thriving 2nd Street District, below is a pic of the restaurant’s patio facing a downtown street. Charming, casual, and open–the patio’s design captures what Austin itself feels like. Next post–back to Birmingham!

Try the bread pudding

[thanks to iskunk for the Northpoint model pic]

3 responses to “Grabbing some inspiration

  1. MIT is the perfect model for UAB. Hey- wouldn’t be exciting if another school on a par with UAB could be established here, with Carraway Medical Center as its… center? Maybe a UAB spin-off, or Auburn’s Urban Studio? ;~J

    I love the Northpoint park. Quite familiar.

  2. What smart looking residential structures at the Northpoint site. Nice!
    I LOVE the scale!!
    Also, the image from Austin makes me think of our own Cityville. That might be a bit of a stretch, but it DOES remind me of our latest mixed-use space. See, we may not be South Beach or L.A.’s Broadway, but we’re not exactly sucking wind, either. I think midtown and the area around the newish Social Security Administration Building are primed for some exciting residential developments. One can hope! At any rate, Birmingham is definitely moving forward. Remember, we have a long long history of neglect and disinterest to overcome (typical of most Southern cities), and I think what’s been happening so far since the publication of “Low Virtues-The Value of Human Scale Architecture to Birmingham Urbanism” has been remarkably forward-thinking.

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