As many of you likely agree with me, most contemporary architecture and buildings in Boston (and in many U.S. cities) is bland and mundane, but there are some projects that really stand out for creative and contextual designs. Tilia in Jamaica Plain is one of the latter! When the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) began accepting bids for the development of an undeveloped linear parcel along Washington Street just south of the Forest Hills T-stop, developers jumped at the opportunity. Urbanica Inc., a local design/development group had the winning proposal which consists of approximately 110‐120 residential units in buildings of varied density ranging from a larger apartment building to more human-scaled townhouses. Led by architect Stephen Chung with Kamran Zahedi as developer, the design for the townhouses specifically is a contemporary nod to the triple-decker form we see so much in the surrounding area. The varied color and recessed sections provide a lot of depth and character to the development along the streetwall.
Trippy Tower House // 2002
One of the most unique buildings I have ever stumbled across is located in the mountain town of Woodstock, NY. Often referred to as the Trippy Tower House, the house was built over the course of 15 years by artist John Kahn, who designed sets for the Muppets and “Fraggle Rock”. The Tower House is crafted from repurposed materials such as slate, copper, aircraft grade aluminum and redwood with the property being considered his largest “sculpture” and his life’s work. The 3,518 square foot home has three bedrooms and four bathrooms across its five floors The cylindrical house was completed in 2002 and sold five years later when Kahn moved to Easter Island. Kahn sold the house to Rhoney Gissen Stanley, who was former secretary to the Grateful Dead and wife of Owsley Stanley, the Dead’s sound man and the alleged first mass producer of LSD. It was listed for sale again in 2017 for $1.2 Million.
Lobster Point Lighthouse // 1948
When you walk along Ogunquit’s Marginal Way cliff walk, it is missing one thing, an iconic Maine lighthouse… or is it? This mini lighthouse on the route always has people lining up to snap a picture and its quirky roadside attraction appeal is undeniable. The original Lobster Point Lighthouse was constructed in 1948 by Winfield C. Littlefield of the local family who first settled in the town. The “lighthouse” was designed by Grover S. Perkins. Much like the real lighthouses on the coast, the original structure was badly beaten by the salt air and high winds and parts of the structure were replaced. Notably, in 1993, the top (lantern) was replaced with fiberglass. Additionally, in 2009 the structure was upgraded, all from donations. The iconic roadside lighthouse will continue to ‘light the way’ for the droves of tourists and locals alike who navigate Marginal Way.
424 Massachusetts Avenue // 2002
Modern architecture can often compliment and blend into the context of historic neighborhoods, and this example in Boston’s South End neighborhood is one of the best examples locally. In 2002, developers eyed a long-vacant lot on the busy Mass. Ave corridor through the South End and began designs of a contextual addition to the streetscape. Dolezal Architecture was tasked with designing a modern residential building that would comply with local historic district regulations, a balance that can be difficult to accomplish. Employing traditional masonry, solid-to-void ratios, massing, and bays, but in a modern context, the building blends in with its surroundings yet is architecturally interesting. The building contains ten condos in a single building which reads more like two distinct structures.
The Clarendon // 2010
Few architects today continually put out good designs for new construction. One of those firms is Robert A. M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), who designed The Clarendon, a high-rise apartment building catty-corner to the tallest building in New England, the Hancock Tower. The Clarendon rises 32-stories atop a five-story limestone base, which relates to the scale of the base of the Old John Hancock Building (across the street). Above, the building is clad in the traditional Boston palette of red brick and limestone, but expressed in a way that relates to its modern neighbors with two-story recessed masses that break up the sheer height of the building. Above the base, the building sets back to create elevated green spaces and to mitigate wind conditions caused by the John Hancock Tower. Together the design features and materials provide a nod to historical context in Boston, while being unapologetically Modern. Part of the appeal for me is how this building does not command the corner, but adds to the rich layered fabric in this section of the Back Bay.
What do you think of the Clarendon?
One Greenway // 2015
Replacing a vacant lot bordering I-93 at Kneeland Street, the One Greenway development provides much needed housing and design as one of the gateways into the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston. A result of community engagement, One Greenway is one of the largest new affordable housing projects in recent memory. The project restores the urban fabric that was lost half a century ago to the construction of major highways, which cut through the community and provides much-needed affordable housing in one of the nation’s oldest and largest immigrant communities. When the elevated highway was moved underground and the Rose Kennedy Greenway was laid out, parcels adjacent were available for reuse, and this was one of the last to be redeveloped. The building mixes 217 market-rate apartments and 95 affordable apartments, to create a mixed-income development, hopefully the future, as to not segregate affordable housing to less-desirable parts of cities. Designed by the firm Stantec, the building creates a solid street wall at the corner, and provides amazing open space at the rear in the form of a well-designed park designed by Crosby, Schlessinger, and Smallridge. The use of beige terracotta panels makes the large building more inviting, compared to the cold and sterile new apartment buildings going up all over the city and region.
Rosebrook Lodge // 2020
Located at the top of Rosebrook Mountain in the Bretton Woods Ski Resort, this stunning modern lodge building provides possibly the best mountain views in New England. After a couple runs on the slopes, I took the gondola up to the top, exiting to a sweeping view of the White Mountains and the iconic Mount Washington Hotel (more on that later). At the top, is this large, well-sited lodge which is perched upon the mountainside, and an excellent example of Contemporary design done right! Appropriately named Rosebrook Lodge, the new building was just completed in 2020 by designs from architectural firm Bull Stockwell Allen from San Francisco, with help from TruexCullins on the interior design. The two-story lodge is constructed from of timber, steel, stone and glass, which complement the region’s rugged natural beauty and provide a sleek space for on-mountain dining or aprés ski. Inside, the building highlights the outside with walls of windows with warm lighting and woodwork that make relaxing effortless.
10 Sullivan // 2016
The Flatiron Building in New York is an excellent example of how New Yorkers maximize any piece of land, no matter how small or what shape, to generate an amazing architectural statement. This skinny lot was previously home to a one-story car wash, serving as an unacceptable entry into the SoHo neighborhood. The tight wedge-shaped lot was envisioned for a higher use and Tamarkin Co. Architects developed one of my favorite recent projects in the city, 10 Sullivan. The innovative design gives me serious Art Moderne vibes with the curving forms and strong horizontal lines. The use of brick creates a feeling of warmth and blends the modern building in with the surrounding historic structures nearby.
Woodshed // 2017
In researching historic buildings in the tiny Vermont town of Pomfret, I was stunned to find images of this stunning Modern design in the town. Designed by the Birdseye Design Firm based out of Richmond, VT, “Woodshed” was completed by 2017 and serves as both a guest house and entertainment space for the main residence down the road. From the firm’s website, “The project is conceptually inspired by the vernacular woodshed, a familiar and iconic element in the Vermont landscape. The residence is composed of two asymmetric gable roof forms, akin to the traditional woodshed, connected by a central entryway”. The common thought on new construction is typically bland and “cookie-cutter” McMansions or boxy apartments, but this project is a testament to thoughtful Modern design found in even the smallest towns in the region!
Levi House // 2001
One of my favorite Contemporary residential designs in the Boston area is the Levi House in Brookline. Completed in 2001, the six-story home is sited in a way to minimize height from the street, but provide ample space towards the rear of the property. Designed by Boston-based architect Jonathan Levi as his own residence, the home showcases how thoughtful Modern design can in fact, contribute to historic streetscapes. Where the site slopes off from the street, a footbridge connects a passage adjoining an existing concrete block garage to the third floor entry level. The tower-like residence is small in footprint and provides privacy on all floors through creative window placement in the wood exterior. The small footprint of the property allows for the natural scenery of the site to take command.