By USGBC MA Communications
Driving through Harvard square you can’t help but be taken back by the sights. You know the bulky Harvard campus buildings and the reminiscent of the Marriott hotel crumbling after its decades of maroon chipped paint and dull design. Sure some glass catches your eye and the smells strolling past Pinocchio’s Pizza make you peek into buildings and side streets til your hunger is cured. More appealing than staring at the blank face ally ways on the brink of dull and boring.
When Boston comes to mind we can’t help but not imagine the blue glass and blue sea is all there is around the Seaport and Waterfront districts. As if mirroring images of more brown and warned down red weren’t enough, now it’s being carried from street to street by our skyline’s reflection. The never ending construction zone signs and public parking becomes near impossible. I mean you really think a Ford 500 can parallel park between a dump truck and a back hoe? That’s not the point here.
I ask you to actually take a moment, and take notice of what you see. Not just the people, the food, the culture, but the physical entities stacked throughout the entire city. The buildings that hold the people and the dirty truth is that…. the city’s architecture is just plain “BLAH.”
Recently, Boston Magazine released an article called “Why is Boston So Ugly?” I asked around and most of my colleagues disagree. I don’t think Boston is ugly. I think there is just a melting pot of contemporary architecture mixed with timeless historical architecture. It’s not ugly, it’s just diverse, and maybe in need of a little imagination.
With a whole lot of man power, these buildings that take up to years of planning, you begin to wonder where the vision began. From start to finish the process can be timely and messy from rearranging layouts, building codes, laying frame after frame…time to complete a building is scorched by deadlines and high risk analysis. But, do architects really give themselves time to create? Where is the time to design and how long do we need to take to get it right?
We are all so into this fast paced money maker squeeze as-many-as-we-can in a time where the baby boomers reign, we think we can meet their demand… yeah, think again. Technology and innovation are terms thrown throughout the building industry. That for years, these two words are the two life lines to redefine Boston’s architecture. But what does it matter if no one is willing to push the boundaries? When will there be an architect who will use their imagination to reinvent how we see our world?
Funny thing is, for years, we have had these kinds of innovators at our feet. With four superb architecture schools within 5 miles of one another, we have a major roster list of innovative designers. Many of whom stick around after their education—alas, most of them stick around to teach, not to build. I am all for education, but to teach and not create seems to me a bit of fearful living. Maybe that is what we see here in Boston the decline of risk-taking. Boston is now home to a handful of world-class architecture firms—companies employing between 20 and 50 people—that are designing beautiful, exciting buildings. And they’re getting built, too. Just not in Boston.
Recently, taking a trip myself to New York City you can’t help but be taken back by the buildings. I am not just saying the big ones you see from Brooklyn Bridge or the Statue of Liberty. I am talking about getting lost on a random street and you’ll most likely find yourself staring at buildings that just make you say “how did they do it? Who thought of this?” Everywhere from the Natural History Museum to any theater, the list goes on and on about creative and innovative design. So why is it Boston can’t seem to take these risks? We have the sources and the people but we cannot implement anything original in years!
Mayor Marty Walsh returned from his New York trip (architecture adventure), and in a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce in December, he passionately advocated for better, more-compelling architecture. “Too often, in recent decades, new buildings have been merely functional,” he said. “I believe Boston can do better. We should aim for world-class design. Our historic buildings reflect our unique past. New buildings should project the values and aspirations of our growing city. We can balance the old and new. And we can do it with imagination.”
These are just words and hopes for a better future. From city hall to the construction site, the people who build these skyscrapers need to branch out and reach out for reliable resources. An idea is only an idea until it is put down on paper and action takes place. But coming up with good ideas with the right people isn’t even half the battle here. The imagination may lack but there is something else that needs to be addressed. Conflicts of interest is what is stopping innovation. The forward-thinking developers are silenced by the current system and the glare of another blue glass building design. Throw out the existing bureaucracy (and any existing plans that yet again mimic the Hynes Convention Center) and build oversight into the system.