More beantown!

It certainly garners attention

After several weeks of travel, it’s back to Birmingham for a while. This post shares some images from last week’s trip to Boston–to get us all thinking and inspired. Above is Vassar Street in Cambridge, which runs through MIT‘s campus. MIT’s Stata Center (designed by Frank Gehry) is to the left. Subject to lawsuits and other controversy, it was a bold effort on the part of the university to bring more notable architecture to the campus. Vassar, and other streets, have been improved with wide sidewalks, bike lanes (sometimes in the road bed as shown above, sometimes integrated into super-wide sidewalks), and planting that makes a pleasant walking or biking environment.

Studying for the advanced astrophysics exam can wait

The pedestrian experience is enhanced by playing fields easily accessed from the street, where an MIT-Coast Guard Academy game was observed, above. The Hancock Tower in the Back Bay area across the river is visible to the right.

Where's my Dunkin' Donuts?

The downtown Financial District, above, is a mix of old (some very old) buildings, and newer structures. On a Friday morning it felt somewhat sleepy, with underwhelming foot traffic (a lot more than downtown Birmingham, but a lot less than New York).

The British are coming

Speaking of old buildings, this beautiful old windmill (above), converted to a powder house in 1747 (and subsequently a key rallying point during the Revolutionary War) is the centerpiece of Powder House Square in Somerville, a couple stops on the T from Harvard Square. Boston is full of this sort of heritage, and has done a great job preserving, labeling, and marketing its history.

But where will we all fit?

Back down the street at Harvard Square, the Graduate School of Design was holding an open house party (above) for prospective students in its main building, Gund Hall. Designed by John Andrews in 1972 in a sort of soft-brutalism style, it was to accommodate a maximum of 300 people. That number now approaches 900 and if it felt like it was bursting at the seams already in my tenure 20 years ago–it now has reached a new crisis. Design students need some space!

Tomorrow's cities envisioned today

Despite that lack of space, GSD students continue to conceive provocative designs in studios based not just in Cambridge but around the world. A student model was on display in the lobby, above. Student projects can be great challenges to how we conventionally think about buildings and cities.

For cheap beer best to head back to Somerville

Back downtown, the above restaurant Trade was spotted: kudos for the arresting graphic including bright yellow stripes. The graphic sensibility of Boston is generally subdued, so this one stood out.

Straight out of a Woody Allen movie. Except not in Manhattan

What better city in which to enjoy a literary salon than the famously well-read Boston? Above is an event at Beacon Press on Beacon Hill, in a lovely old building. Filled with writers, poets, and editors (and a few hangers-on like your author), it was a reminder of the intellectual fabric that supports the physical fabric of this city.

All about scale

Back out past Somerville to Medford and a visit toTufts University. Above is a nicely designed new dormitory building, whose modern detailing and careful massing make for a handsome, appropriate addition to this historic campus.

How to retrofit a roof

Tufts has recently renovated the roof of their library (above) using a concept of outdoor landscaped rooms and art. It’s fantastic (and so are the views to the Boston skyline).

Not really caring what the neighbors think

We leave Boston with the above image of a house in Medford near Tufts–complete with bright blue paint, bright blue vinyl fencing, plastic flowers in the planters, and a collection of plastic and stone figurines out front. Surely grandfathered from any current Design Review guidelines, it somehow still speaks to the pride and sense of place that’s evident in the many neighborhoods in Boston…

…even if the physical resolution of that pride is blue vinyl fencing and a plastic Bambi. Have a great weekend everybody.

9 responses to “More beantown!

  1. It turns out to be a concrete Bambi and quite heavy.

  2. Thanks for the beantown post, Bham. I was intrigued by “Alex’s place” and the sign that describes how and what, but not why. A little more on Alex here: http://www.tuftsdaily.com/library-roof-officially-unveiled-as-alex-s-place-1.1734508. Maybe it would have been okay to let some of that emotion into the wayfinding system?

    • Thanks for reading and posting. I agree after seeing this that the wayfinding system could be more creative. Coming from Birmingham, where we have almost no wayfinding, of course I tend to be more forgiving…

      • As always, thanks for the cool observations from your travels. Also, a while back I remember you mentioning that the city of Birmingham is working on a new way finding system and there might be a roll out in 2012. Do you or anyone else know if that project is still in the works? I hope so. As you say, we desperately need a better way finding system for visitors and residents!

      • Thanks for reading. Wayfinding is still in the works for the City, for sure–but have not heard of any final format/plan, or roll-out date. Considering we’re expecting a big surge in tourism next year, it would make sense if they were pushing to get at least a first phase in place soon. I’ll try to find out more about this.

  3. Great news. Thanks for the update.

  4. Interesting insights once again. I especially liked putting the university library roof to better use. Perhaps my alma mater ought to consider that. Welcome back home. While you were gone, you didn’t miss a thang.

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