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.
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?
Occupying the highest elevation (315 feet) in Newton, Massachusetts Baldpate Hill and its residential development encompasses perhaps the largest concentration of architect-designed custom homes from the 1940-1960 period
in the city. Newton realtor Arnold Hartmann purchased large land holdings in the minimally developed Oak Hill village, developed some land into the Newton Country Club and other areas for suburban neighborhoods. He laid out building lots on Baldpate Hill from 1926 to the late 1950s, and many of the homes were built after WWII. One of the later homes built is this house, built in 1959 from plans by the architectural firm of Hoover & Hill of Cambridge. The home features a low-slung roof with the home in a Ranch form, yet extends to two stories as the hill drops off at the rear of the home. A small garden is located in the front yard, and terraced yard is located at the rear.
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.
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.
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!
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.
One of the most stunning buildings in the Boston area is the Jewett Arts Center at Wellesley College.
The main architect of Jewett Arts Center was Paul Rudolph (1918-1997) who
studied under Walter Gropius at Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) where he received his Master of Architecture in 1947. Rudolph served as Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University where he designed several buildings including the Yale Arts and Architecture School in his signature corduroy concrete.
Jewett was built to replace the Farnsworth Art Building which had been
constructed in 1889 and was reaching its capacity in the early 1900s.
As early as 1923 Ralph Adams Cram, supervising architect to Wellesley
College was asked to plan a fireproof addition to the Art Building.
From 1950 more discussions about additions to Farnsworth occurred and
several schemes were considered, but they landed on the construction of a new building which would frame out the Academic Quad.
George Frederick Jewett pledged the necessary funds to construct an arts
center in 1954. At that time his wife, Mary Cooper Jewett ’23, was a Trustee
of the College. Jewett’s initial contribution was for an arts building; he learned of the need for a music facility as pledge to include an arts center of two parts: an arts building for his wife, and a music building in memory of his mother.
The main exterior material of the Arts Center is brick, matched in color to the brick of the surrounding structures. Rudolph considered structural
elements and scale to create the appropriate embellishment. The quad can be entered by a sheltered approach through the building with cantilevered stairs on the sides. A staircase opens to the quadrangle and acts as a picture frame for the historic structures surrounding.
One of the wings on the building, which was intended as art studios on the upper floors, called for larger expanses of windows for increased natural light. The addition of brise-soleils adds texture architecturally and functionality for the interior spaces.
Designed by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, the new Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center at Wellesley exemplifies the bold new designs that are popping up on campuses all over the New England area. The innovative building is 50,000 square feet of space on an extremely difficult site.
From the firm’s website:
[It has been argued that “no single building on the Wellesley campus can claim as much historical significance and general admiration as does the landscape itself, and the buildings best loved within the Wellesley community have aesthetic properties which blend with those of the landscape.” To take its place at Wellesley, the new campus center must be derived from the values which are already embedded in the land. This extends beyond external appearance to the building’s internal structure—its essence, if you will. To become successful architecture, it must be more than a “composition in conformity with topographic conditions;” it must materialize the principles which have guided Wellesley since its inception.]
The building’s namesake, Lulu Chow Wang, is the CEO and founder of Tupelo Capital Management, a leading New York-based investment firm and graduated from Wellesley College in 1966. She named her company after Tupelo Point a scenic point overlooking Waban Lake on campus.