Monday, January 1, 2018

Ring out the old, ring in the new

Photos of Vox on Two courtesy of
Photo by Sarah Nichols, courtesy of
This line from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem "Ring Out, Wild Bells" (and George Harrison's 1974 song "Ding Dong, Ding Dong") perfectly sums up my experience of a contrast of old classical and new contemporary interiors to ring out 2017 in the former and ring in 2018 in the latter — both on positive notes.
Photos of the Christian Science Mother Church (1906, Charles Brigham) by Todd Larson
The organ concert I attended in Boston's Christian Science Mother Church on First Night 2017 made the vaults, domes and arches of the Byzantine Renaissance basilica interior bound, soar and orbit in space with the bravura of the "music of the spheres" that awed Pythagoras.

"Harmony of the World" (1806, Ebenezer Sibly)
Indeed, the Church's central dome (above) and skylight (left) bear a striking resemblance to "Harmony of the World" (right), English astrologer Ebenezer Sibly's vision of a perfectly heliocentric universe, in their geometric radiance of equidistant lines from a centerpoint to show, in Sibly's case, the planets' distances from the sun in their concentric orbit.

These circular symbols of the perfection of the God-created heavens are in league with the Pythagorean concept of the Harmony of the Spheres, as expressed by Pliny the Elder in Natural History (77 A.D.): "Pythagoras draws on the theory of music, and designates the distance between the Earth and the Moon as a whole tone, that between the Moon and Mercury as a semitone, ... the seven tones thus producing the so-called diapason, i.e., a universal harmony."

The diapasons and pipes of the Church's great Aeolian-Skinner organ radiated that harmony throughout the grand space in a potpourri of tonal formulae. These included the subdued serenity of César Franck's Fantaisie en la Majeurthe theatrical thrills of Georgi Muschel's Toccata, the majestic march of Camille Saint-Saëns' Finale from "Organ" Symphony No. 3, and the animated adventure of Leroy Anderson's Sleigh Ride and Leonard Bernstein's Candide Overture, with even a ring-tone thrown in to foreshadow the ringing out of the old year with a fantasy on Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne to close the concert.

The musical precision of mathematics is also evident in the columnar hierarchy of the half-domed transept galleries, which create a harmony of styles representing diverse periods of architectural history yet unified in numerical commonality.

The bottom row is a static Greek post-and-lintel structure of 8 columns, which upholds the middle succession of Bostonian segmental arches leaping dramatically across 8 columns, which in turn supports the uppermost rhythm of Roman arches unifying 16 columns. 

The strength of the arches and the doubling of their columns support the drum of the dome, whose ribs spring in unison from the arcade to the skylight in a grand gesture of heavenly aspiration akin to the organ's soaring sonorities.
Music in the air also characterizes the ground-level hall to the Sunday School room at one end and the portico entrance at the other. Columns, coffers and carvings make the space ring with the richness of a grand entry into a great concert hall like Symphony Hall.

Vox on Two, a residence on Concord Turnpike in Cambridge, had me marching to a different drum: human-scaled harmony. Built in 2014 from a design by CUBE 3 Studio of Lawrence, its cubic, clean-lined form sings the spirit of its architect's name and trumpets the individu- ality of the units and the intimacy of their spaces. 
Not ornament but furniture and a fireplace warm your welcome. But, like the Church, the lobby's curves evoke movement and soften the scene so you feel more at home. Yet the curves also ease and encourage circulation, as a visual reminder not to linger in the lounge but to proceed to your unit (or your friend's, in my case), in the spirit of that old adage of hospitality and haste, "Welcome ye coming, speed ye parting guest."

Not so in the unit itself, where we hung out past midnight to speed ye parting '17 and welcome ye coming '18. The "chef-inspired" kitchen with "luxury espresso" cabinetry and pendant-lit granite island typified the kitchen as the house's new social center. Strewn with ciders, wines, cheeses, crackers, chips and chocolate-covered almonds, it was just that.

The carpeted, art-ready living room shielded us from one of the coldest New Years on record (so cold it canceled some First Night festivities) with "oversized, energy-efficient quadruple-paned windows" and "individually controlled central heating." Which made it the perfect space for our end-of-year games of Meme, where we vied for who could give a dorky photo the smuttiest caption, and Scattergories, where we racked our late-nighter-zonked brains to see how many things beginning with a die-rolled letter we could come up with before time was up. And we didn't forget to toast the New Year over snifters of cider (we'd drunk all the wine by then) — in the kitchen, of course.
The "huge, spa-inspired" bathroom — with more of that "espresso cabinetry" — wasn't bad, either, by virtue of being as big as a bedroom. 

In fact, it was bigger than the kitchen. And here was where the Vox on Two unit shared one common architectural attribute with the Mother Church, despite their disparate uses and 108-year-old generation gap: more space than their users will ever need.
Tennyson and Harrison also said, "Ring out the false, ring in the true." Well, both of these buildings are true to their respective forms, presenting us with no falsehoods about their architectural aims to accommodate large congregations and small gatherings, respectively. And this immaculate contrast between the ornate ecclesiastical grandeur of the Christian Science Mother Church and the clean-lined domestic intimacy of Vox on Two was the right way for me to kick off 2018 — by experiencing the best of both spheres.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

'Ideal View'? Look again...

This Cambridge curiosity epitomizes the era when the marketing of real estate was carved right into the building itself, rather than relegated to ancillary signs, banners and billboards à la "If you lived here, you'd be home now" in Boston's Charles River Park. And this one certainly ballyhooed the best reason for living or working here: the 'Ideal View' cast in stone right below the only part of the building that bestowed that privilege—at least when it was built. 

But look at the view now...

....a scrappy construction site on the grounds of what looks like a former school, built low enough to preserve at least part of the sky view, but not a very inspiring architectural view to ogle out the window at each morning—far from ideal. And who knows what "view" the new development will leave future 'Ideal View' occupants with, just as the original developers of the Charlesview couldn't predict when they first built it in 1900, before Kenmore Square was fully developed, when...
View from the Charlesview.
Charlesview (1900, Funk & Wilcox)
...the Charlesview's highest-up residents could see straight through to the sparkling waters of their residence's namesake. Of course, that name became moot when buildings sprang up across the square, which gave air-rights to two of the vilest view-blockers: a billboard and a neon sign. (Yet I'm sure that the Charlesview's penthousers deem the Citgo sign an "ideal view," now that it's a beloved Boston icon.)
Charlesview Condominium (1923, Edward B. Stratton)
Of course, this 'Charlesview,' on Beacon Street in the Back Bay, was more deceptive from the start, as its front-entrance façade's curb appeal couldn't live up to its name; only its uppermost backside tenants could drink in the river as their canopy conveyed. The frontside ones were stuck with...
Charlesgate Hotel (1891, J. Pickering Putnam)
...the Charlesgate, a handsome hotel indeed, but not the promised view. Yet still an appetizing one, with a distinguished castle-like presence as a Queen Anne–Romanesque Revival–French Second Empire hybrid with a conical corner-tower, pressed-copper oriels, arched parapets with finials, a rock-faced granite base, and other delights to drink in with your morning coffee.

Hyatt Regency Cambridge (1976, Graham Gund)
Photo by Fletcher6, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The only "Charlesview" totally true to its name is the CharlesView Ballroom atop the Hyatt Regency Cambridge, a symbol of the ballroom's core intent: "Step up to finer viewing pleasure." Its direct view of the river and the Boston skyline exceeds what you expected from its name. An Ideal View, no? Trouble is, it's a great place to visit, but you couldn't ever live there...
...but I once lived here, in an Allston condo that truly gave me what its street-honorific, Bellvista Road, told me it would. Meaning "Beautiful View" in Italian, the road lifts the building up a hill, assuring its rear penthouse units' occupants of a bellvista when they step out onto their rear balconies and gaze at the Allston-Cambridge skies...

Genzyme Corporation Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Plant
(1994, ARC/Architectural Resources Cambridge), Allston Landing, Mass.
It was from here that I witnessed the erection of the Genzyme Corp.'s Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Plant on Allston Landing (right) in the early '90s. From my perch it had the aura of a majestic cathedral rising toward heaven, which its postmodern Georgian Harvard derivative design truly gives it, even from the ground. A bellvista and an Ideal View, to be sure!
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Monday, September 18, 2017

'Like a shot'

That was the theme of a recent writing exercise in my Wordplay Meetup group. And it left me in a quagmire about how I could possibly take a shot at it in an architectural context. Well, luckily the above image popped up on Google — and transmedia entrepreneur Steve Iles' Twitter take on it (@sjiles8was point-blank: "An amazing photo of Dubai at night. Looks like a shot from Blade Runner."  
And he wasn't kidding. The fog has a way of morphing UAE's main port of entry into the ghostly likeness of Los Angeles 2019 (yikes! Two years away!) as depicted in Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic. Dubai's office-building lights eerily poke through the dark and the fog, signifying the steadfast impact of technology on society and nature (for better or for worse) with a clashing contrast of film noir gloom and high-tech dignity. Like the L.A. foglights in the Blade Runner image above, Burj Khalifa — the world's tallest building as of this writing — shoots up with a light-saber spurt as the iconic signature of the enterprise, standing tall and firm against nature's attempt to supplant human progress by fogging it up.
Photo by Donaldytong, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Built in 2010 from an Islamic-inspired design by Adrian Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — the architects of two other "world's tallest" candidates, Chicago's Sears (now Willis) Tower and New York's One World Trade Center — Burj Khalifa stands 2,722 feet from base to tip, courtesy of its Y-shaped, triple-buttressed hexagonal core reinforced-concrete structural system that withstands twisting and high winds, in addition to the gradual stacking and layering of its load-bearing capacities in the graduated bundled-tube structure form the Sears/Willis Tower had pioneered in 1973 (see below). Thus Burj Khalifa is well-anchored to the ground by gradually bulking and spreading outward as it gets lower so it is in no danger of toppling, like its top-of-the-world ancestor, the Empire State Building. Yet it uses half of the Empire's amount of steel, thanks to its tubular system, whose layered, stepped, rounded effect gives it an organic quality... the Islamic spiral minaret (here, the Tower of Babel-esque helix of the Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq, built in 851) or these stalagmites
in the Choranche Cave near Grenoble, France...

Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), 1973, Bruce Graham/SOM
& Fazlur Rahman Khan, Chicago. Photo by Soakologist.
...but less like its primary model, Chicago's Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), which shoots up like a stacked bundle of skyscrapers (it essentially is; each "tube" is a separate building with its own floor plates and elevator). Yet the squared-off structure of each of the nine tubes stagnates the sense of upward motion that the curves of the Burj Khalifa, the gyre of the Great Mosque and the contours of the stalagmites convey. They all move the eye upward, whereas the Willis seems to shift it from one block to the next, mixing lateral and vertical jarringly. While pioneering the bundled tube structure as a resister of wind and seismic forces and a way to parse office space economically while keeping it ample, the Willis needed a successor to bring its tubular design to a loftier form that made its structure dramatically as well as functionally forceful.

"The Illinois" (1957,
Frank Lloyd Wright)
Burj Khalifa's 2008 opening ceremony.
Photo by Hisham Binsuwaif, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
For the Willis shows its parts too distinctly, which arrests its upward progression in our sight, particularly when it "pauses" at its flat roofs. The rounded layering of the Burj Khalifa, however, makes it appear as more of an organic whole, seeming to shoot up in one fell swoop. This recalls "The Illinois," Frank Lloyd Wright's 1957 conception of a mile-high skyscraper (right) as a protracted pyramid with projecting parapets — likely an inspiration for Burj Khalifa in its straight-up a shot!
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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Haikutecture II

Old Man of the Mountain (1805-2003), Franconia, New Hampshire.
Composite image by Rob Gallagher.

Old Man of the Mount,
Your decline betoke your state:
Living free, then dead.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1959, Frank Lloyd Wright), New York.
Photo by Stevenuccia, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Fluid spiral drum
Guides us through continuum
Of evolving art.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1959, Frank Lloyd Wright), New York.
Photo by Evan-Amos

Sculpture in the round
Shepherds us from sky to ground
Through an artist's life.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1959, Frank Lloyd Wright), New York.
Photo by Alex Proimos, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Freeform nautilus
Through a freespace motions us
By the freehand's craft.

Citigroup Center at 601 Lexington Ave. (1977, Hugh Stubbins & Associates), New York.
Image courtesy of

Beacon of bright hope
For high-tech to lift us up
From recession's murk.

Auditorium Theater, Auditorium Building (1889, Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan), Chicago.

Décor, structure, space
All festooned in one huzzah:

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Saturday, September 9, 2017


Engelberg & Hahnen, Switzerland. Photo by Simon Koopmann, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Autumn's auguries
Grow on us by green's demise,
Nip us in cool spurts.

City Hall Annex, Jacksonville, Florida (1960, Reynolds, Smith & Hills).
Photo by
Taber Andrew Bain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Box and line and plane
Beauty make, but only when
They coordinate.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1909, Guy Lowell; 1981, I.M. Pei; 2010, Foster & Partners). 
Image courtesy of Slow Muse by Deborah Barlow.

Arts from 'round the world
Limned by where the entries face:
North, South, East, and West.

Chestnut Hill Waterworks (1887, Arthur H. Vinal; 1898, Wheelwright & Haven).
Photo by Jet Lowe, courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.

Nature, history
In one winsome envelope:

Notre-Dame de Tournai (1140-1700), Tournai, Belgium.

Gothic, heavenbound.
Romanesque, on solid ground.
God, Man reconciled.

PTC Headquarters, Needham, Massachusetts (early 2000s, Tsoi/Kobus & Associates).

Glass, brick, metal, stone
Unify diversity
As a corporate team.

Exchange Place, Boston (1891, Peabody & Stearns; 1985, WZMH).
Photo courtesy of The Next Phase Blog.

Old and new shake hands
In a standoff of the parts
Of postmodernism.

Geppa-ro tea pavillion, Katsura Imperial Villa (17th c.), Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Raphael Azevedo Franca.

Posts, beams, screens, and mats
Fill Japan's core needs, just like
Hara hachi bu. 


One World Trade Center (2013, David Childs), WTC Hub (2016, Santiago Calatrava), New York
Photo by Todd Larson, taken September 11, 2016.

In memoriam,
Crossing-sword geometry
Intertwines the Twins.

The Tudor (1887, S.J.F. Thayer), Beacon Hill, Boston.

Castle in the air,
Bricolage from down below—
What to call this style?

111 Huntington Ave. (2001, CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc.), Boston.
Photo by Larry Strong, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Crown, mandala, shaft
Meld motifs from 'round the world
All in 1-1-1.

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center (1979-2013, James Ingo Freed), Hudson Yards, New York.
Photo by Arnold G. Reinhold, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Crystal palace blue,
Building blocks to grow anew
Hudson's dormant yards.

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