Appropriate infill construction can be a very difficult thing to accomplish, with some developments hitting the mark and others adversely impacting the historic neighborhoods where they were built. Boston is home to many examples of both occurrences, but I wanted to share a very successful infill project in the South End neighborhood, Langham Court. As the South End resurfaced as a desirable neighborhood, long-time residents were priced out, which led to the Boston Redevelopment Authority to fund projects to provide much-needed housing for the local community. This site which once housed over 20 townhouses, was razed by the 1960s in a period of urban renewal where existing housing was deemed unsafe and inadequate. The local design firm of Goody/Clancy was hired, and they masterfully designed a U-shaped complex of 84 mixed-income units that fits well within its surroundings. The design exhibits dormers, bays, arched and vaulted entries, a combination of mansard and flat roofs, stringer courses and textured brickwork, and a palette of well chosen materials all at a scale that blends in the 1990s building to its surroundings which came nearly 150 years prior. The complex remains as a testament to good-quality design even for affordable housing, which notoriously gets the short end of the stick design-wise.
The Frederick E. Parlin Memorial Library is arguably the most architecturally significant building in the City of Everett, Massachusetts. Constructed of buff brick, sandstone and terracotta, it displays characteristics of the Richardsonian Romanesque style including the main entrance set within a recessed arch at the base of a square tower with arched openings. In 1892, Albert Norton Parlin, a local businessman, donated to the City of Everett the Pickering Estate, his birthplace and familial home, to be torn down and a library erected on the parcel in memory of his son, Frederick E. Parlin, who died in 1890 at the age of eighteen. Albert Parlin gave to the City an additional $5,000 to aid in the building of the Frederick E. Parlin Memorial Library. The original 1894 library as well as a 1911-1912 addition were designed by local architect John Calvin Spofford who positioned the building to face a small triangular park. By the 1940’s, the building was outgrown, but it wasn’t until 1982 that a plan was set in motion to renovate the original building and to construct an addition. Childs, Bertman, Tseckares was chosen to draw up the architectural plans, and ground was finally broken in the spring of 1990. With construction of the new addition, the building is almost three times its original size and handicapped accessible, all with an appropriate, Post-Modern design.
While the demolition of the 1909 Forest Hills Station in Jamaica Plain (last post) was a huge architectural and historic loss for the city of Boston, the present building is a landmark in its own right. The present building was built in 1987 as a pivotal project in the MBTA’s Southwest Corridor Improvement Program, which was largely unfinished (thanks to neighborhood pushback and protests against the proposed highway to cut through the neighborhoods). The existing station, designed by local firm Cambridge Seven, is situated between two important points in Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” park system, and thus was given the appearance of a greenhouse by the architects. The distinctive clock tower, rising 120 feet above the station, signals the station location and is a nod to the days when stations once had prominent clocks to help passengers keep tabs on the time, before the days of cellphones!
Built in 1934 as the fourth high school for the town of Tewksbury, this Neo-Classical school building has seen better days. The Center School was designed by Miller and Beal architects of Portland, Maine, and likely funded with assistance of New Deal program funding during the Great Depression. The next year, Tewksbury Stadium was dedicated in 1938, which was a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. The Tewksbury Center School retains many of the details that characterize its Neo-Classical Style including: the front gable entry portico supported by two-story Corinthian columns and pilasters, the wide frieze band with the band of dentil molding, the decoratively clad end bays framed by Corinthian pilasters, the broken pediment of the door surround, and keystones in the brick lintels. The town needed to expand at the end of the 20th century, and hired Architectural Resources Cambridge to design the John F. Ryan Elementary School, located behind this building. The Ryan Elemetary School is a pleasing design which is Post-Modern in style. The Center School has been used as offices for the School Department and was recently proposed to be demolished for surface parking, and a new school constructed elsewhere on the site. This seems very wasteful, and epitomizes the lack of regard for environmental or historical conservation in many cities and towns.
The Mount Vernon Congregation Church was founded in 1842 and originally was located in Ashburton Place on Beacon Hill (which I featured previously). As its members moved to the Back Bay, the congregation decided to build a new church in the western portion of the neighborhood. They hired architect C. Howard Walker to design the new church building, with stained glass windows by John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany added as memorials to several members of the congregation over subsequent years. As originally designed, the church had a 45-foot high steeple on top of its 85-foot square tower, but over the years it became structurally unsound, and it was removed just before the Hurricane of 1938, which toppled many steeples all over the region. In 1970, the church merged with the Old South Church in the Back Bay. In 1977, developers proposed to remodel the church building into retail and office space. The proposal was approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in January of 1978. Before work could commence, a fire destroyed much of the church building leaving a shell of Roxbury Puddingstone walls and the tower, the developer pulled its funding and the building’s future was uncertain. One year later, architect Graham Gund purchased the building. Gund was familiar with adaptive reuse projects, like his restoration of the Middlesex County Courthouse in Cambridge for his own office in Cambridge in the 1970s. Gund redesigned the building into 43 condominium units called Church Court. What are your thoughts on the architecture?
The late 1980s were a time of financial success for developers and banking companies all over the country. It seems that more skyscrapers were constructed in Boston this decade than any other of the 20th century, but working within the confines of the historic downtown of the city, left architects and developers to come up with creative ways to build here. The architectural firm of Kohn Pederson Fox was hired to construct a 20+ story office tower at the southern edge of the Financial District in Boston, while preserving the small-scale commercial buildings there. A row of four-story commercial blocks constructed after the Great Boston Fire of 1872 were retained with the tower seemingly growing out of them. The process here is known as “facadism” which is a valuable preservation tool to balance preservation with density in historic downtowns, though not always done right. This KPF design with its Post-Modern tower in concrete and granite fits well within the streetscape and maintains a walkable block downtown.
What do you think of this design?
If the 1980s was a house, this home in the Fisher Hill neighborhood of Brookline would be it! Located at the corner of Fisher Ave and Leicester Street, the property actually was built in 1902 for Elizabeth Head. The home was the earliest on the street and was wood frame with stucco siding. In 1980, the home was completely renovated in the Post-Modern style, fairly uncommon in this high style. The owners hired architect Tom Larson to completely reconfigure the home and add some cartoonish features which really catch the eye. The home was re-clad with multi-colored stucco, given rounded windows, and a rounded entry with colonnade.
One of the few great examples of Post-Modern architecture in Downtown Boston is the eleven-story One Bowdoin Square building. During the period of Urban Renewal in Boston in the 1960s, much of the area known today as Government Center and the West End was demolished and replaced with taller buildings with plazas, many of which for governmental or institutional uses.
The site of One Bowdoin Square was redeveloped in 1968 as the “Bulfinch Building”. The building was designed by Mark Kiley and featured light brick with concrete banding between floors. In the 1980s, the building was already outdated and proposed for redevelopment again. When analyzing the building, it was determined that the building was structurally sound and it was deconstructed to the framing and remodeled by the amazing Graham Gund. The current building is a very unique Post-Modern structure with a very interesting entry and flared cornice with triangular windows.