Tag Archives: MIT

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.

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]