Mark Pasnik has written the book on Boston‘s evolving architectural identity—literally.
Pasnik, founding principal at over,under and co-author (with Chris Grimley and Michael Kubo) of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, will offer his take on “Facades and Regional Architecture” in a presentation at next month’s Facades+AM Boston symposium. “While Boston is often identified as a brick city, its architectural traditions are more complex,” observed Pasnik. The city’s landmark structures include not just brick but also granite and poured-in-place concrete edifices. “Where there is unity is in the thickness, heaviness, and solidity of nearly all of Boston’s most significant buildings,” said Pasnik.
More recent architectural trends, including the elevation of thinness, contradict this legacy. “Some of the most criticized areas of new development in the city have suffered from paper-thin, inelegant, commercial curtain walls, particularly in the Seaport District,” noted Pasnik. (Exceptions include William Rawn Associates and Ann Beha Architects’ high-tech, highly transparent Cambridge Public Library). “However, Boston’s identity, seen in historical and modernist traditions alike, is almost always on the side of having a thick skin,” he remarked.
Architects including Kennedy & Violich (Tozzer Anthropology Building at Harvard University) have successfully married Boston’s historic heaviness with new technology and materials. Of particular note is the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Dudley Square (Mecanoo and Sasaki Associates). “What makes a structure like the Bolling Building and its high performance facade so remarkable is that its skin serves to stitch a neighborhood back together, animate its streets, renew a dilapidated historical facade, and in general represent the value of meaningful civic investment—which has become more and more rare in the United States,” said Pasnik. “The building has catalyzed improved design ambition and expanded development, but its most important effect is in revitalizing an important urban center.”
Boston’s Financial District. (Stefano Montagner / Flickr)