The Hub's New Rub pix
Boston gives "contemporary" a second chance
Meaghan O'Neill -- Interior Design, 11/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Vessel's Candela ambient lights, powered by rechargeable LEDs.
Foster + Partners's rendering of a 137,000-square-foot wing for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The museum's enclosed courtyard.
A proposed textiles display that Karen Stone and Kenji Ito designed for a future Knoll showroom.
The lobby at Urbanica 50, an 1874 police station now converted into 14 condominiums.
The company's Candeloo lights.
A maple book tower rising three stories in a Back Bay town house by Office dA.
CBT's reception area for law firm Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels, complete with Sol LeWitt murals.
|Call it the great Boston Disconnect. Despite a flirtation with modernism—climaxing in 1969 with Kallmann, McKinnell & Knowles's widely loathed brutalist City Hall—Boston has clung to its brownstone and ivy, favoring pseudo-historical styles to anything cutting-edge. And though Walter Gropius, Philip Johnson, and I.M. Pei have all left their marks, that hidebound attitude persisted. Even with Rem Koolhaas and Steven Holl walking the halls of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the schools' forward-thinking architecture and students remained largely insulated.
Today, cultural institutions are making an unquestionable impact on the city's landscape. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are planning significant additions by Foster + Partners and Renzo Piano Building Workshop, respectively. Projects by Moshe Safdie and Associates and Studio Daniel Libeskind are in the works for the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the final piece of the Big Dig. Diller Scofidio + Renfro's Institute of Contemporary Art finally opens in December. It's as if a memo went out to the architecture world, giving Boston a thumbs-up.
Ever since an influx of Internet and biotech types started redefining Boston's role in the global marketplace, the resulting infusion of money has inspired developers to take more risks, too. In 1999, Hacin + Associates's Laconia Lofts was one of the first up, and its 98 units sold in a flash. Within five years, the loft market was booming. Laconia's neighborhood, the South End, has been transformed from a burned-out zone into an enclave of galleries and restaurants. "Things happen on the fringe, which then becomes the center," architect David Hacin observes.
In a still underdeveloped part of the South End stands the 15-story brick Macallen Building by Office dA, which takes its role as a leader seriously. "You have to stimulate smart growth and be a good model," principal Nader Tehrani says. Ideas about contemporary design, he notes, must move beyond aesthetics to embrace technology and urban planning: "You have to respect history by not falsely emulating it. You can still do very contextual work."
Despite what Bradford Walker of Ruhl Walker Architects nevertheless describes as a "very strong pressure to make exteriors fit in," Boston has shown a willingness to transform buildings on the inside. A Victorian row house that he reinvented as a vertical loft looks identical to its South End neighbors from the street. A seemingly typical Back Bay house, redesigned by Office dA, has been propelled into the 21st century by etched-glass partitions, and a stainless-steel kitchen.
The D4 condominium, a 1930's police station, combines the talents of two design and development firms. Urbanica handled the architecture, while Yoo cofounder Philippe Starck has his unmistakable fingerprints all over the interiors. "A lot of good stuff is happening indoors," Urbanica principal Stephen Chung says. This experimentation "behind the curtain," as Hacin calls it, has simultaneously given rise to such commercial projects as Stella, a white-on-white eatery by the Orpin Group, and Wilson Associates's chic Nine Zero Hotel, with its expanses of glass and metallics. In a way, it's the perfect compromise for a place that has always valued restraint over ostentation.
In the corporate sector, CBT's groovy redo of law firm Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels reflects a realization that affluent young clients are no longer impressed by mahogany and leather. They've been replaced by what ADD principal Steve Basque calls "anti-Enron" transparent glass or acrylic.
Arclinea, M2L, and Design Within Reach have all recently begun selling in what some are hopefully calling the Design District, near Park Plaza. "We've seen a real shift going on," Arclinea Boston president Philip Guarino says of the brand's first U.S. foray, adding that it's taken little more than simply exposing the product to find a receptive market. Anchoring the district is Montage, Boston's most established contemporary-furnishings supplier, which opened to the trade in 1959 and went retail in 2002.
Edgy local furnishings manufacturer Vessel has likewise gone into retail. Vessel cofounder Stefane Barbeau predicts that the city's high-tech designers, on the verge of a mass exodus from their corporate chains, will soon transition from durable goods to consumer goods. "When I moved here in 1997, the idea of being a design entrepreneur was nonexistent," he says. "But housewares and accessories are easy places to start out."
Clearly, the new new thing is provoking none of the public outcry heard 40 years ago. "The city is becoming a laboratory for how to create a tension between old and new," says Hacin, who sits on the Boston Civic Design Commission. It seems that in Beantown, if you build it, they will come around.