And here are a few shots of the area around the Government Service Center, including the adjacent Edward Brooke Courthouse, designed in the late 1990s by the same firm that designed Boston City Hall more than thirty years earlier (now Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood).
I spent a sunny Sunday photographing the Government Service Center and a couple of surrounding buildings in Boston’s Government Center area. This post focuses on the Government Service Center. In part II, I’ll post some shots of the surrounding area.
Architect Paul Rudolph’s Government Service Center consists of two separate, but connected buildings: the Hurley Building and the Lindemann Mental Health Center. It’s the most misunderstood building in Boston. Many consider it (wrongly, IMHO) to be the ugliest building in Boston.
One of Rudolph’s masterpieces, Boston’s Government Services Center, with its distinctive “corduroy concrete,” ranks high among the best examples of Brutalist architecture in the United States (even eclipsing Boston City Hall). Designed and constructed a couple years after Rudolph’s Yale Art and Architecture Buildingtour de force, the Hurley/Lindemann building was never completed according to Rudolph’s original design and vision. Construction of this high rise portion was never realized.
Unfortunately, the Government Service Center has suffered from years of neglect. The northern corner of the building has long been fronted by a hideous chain-link fence enclosing a make shift parking lot in place of the landscaped park in the original design. Within the past five years, many external stairways and other means of access to terraces and other intriguing spaces have been blocked, closed off by (more, ugly) chain-link fences. This wikipedia photo gives you a glimpse of one such unique area, as does this Droid Hot Spot commercial from 6 years ago, posted below. I’ve kicked myself for years not photographing Rudolph’s Government Service Center when access to all the external spaces and stairways was still open (and when deterioration of the buildings was a bit less pronounced).
I’ve been defending Brutalist architecture for years, and attempting to convince fellow Bostonians of the importance and charms of Rudolph’s Government Services Center (typically to no avail). But, Brutalism is back, baby! Well, sorta. See this recent New York Times “Brutalism is Back” article, including:
Brutalism is undergoing something of a revival. Despite two generations of abuse (and perhaps a little because of it), an enthusiasm for Brutalist buildings beyond the febrile, narrow precincts of architecture criticism has begun to take hold. Preservationists clamor for their survival, historians laud their ethical origins and an independent public has found beauty in their rawness.
In recent years, appreciation for Rudolph’s work has rebounded, especially among young architects. His Yale building, after a fumbled reconstruction and decades of neglect, was magnificently restored in 2009. But his Government Service Center is now only a shadow of what he envisioned. The complex was conceived as a moving, celebratory place, but mistreatment has made it resemble a prison. Yards of wire fencing overzealously fence off walkway walls now deemed too low to protect pedestrians. Parked vehicles have eroded the surface of the beautiful plaza at Staniford and Merrimac.
A second set of shots, this time featuring only color photos, from a walk through Boston’s South End on a glorious October day with my soon to be retired, five+ year-old Olympus E-P3 (in favor of a recently ordered Pen F.) Part one, featuring only black and white photos, may be seen here. The full set of photos may be seen here, on Flickr.
And here is a selection of a few South End neighborhood favorites, featuring the petit robert bistro, the South End Buttery cafe and restaurant, and Cafe Madeleine, a French patisserie and cafe with the best Pain au Chocolat in Boston—conveniently located just a few blocks from my house.
I took a walk from one end of the South End to the other on a glorious October day with my soon to be retired, five+ year-old Olympus E-P3. This post–the first of two from that walk–focuses on points south of Tremont, including SOWA, and features monochrome shots (straight B&W). The late afternoon sun provided long shadows and stark contrast which look so good in black and white. There are also some sun-dappled shots of a deteriorated SOWA block with an old, one-story electrical shop, as well as a very cool building around the corner near Peters Park with large receiving and loading doors labeled “IN” and “OUT” in the masonry above.
Designed by renown Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Oculus and World Trade Center station took 12 years to build and $4 billion in public funds– the most expensive train center ever.
As the New York Times noted, “Calatrava’s original soaring spike design was scaled back because of security issues. In the name of security, Santiago Calatrava’s bird has grown a beak. Its ribs have doubled in number and its wings have lost their interstices of glass…. [T]he main transit hall, between Church and Greenwich Streets, will almost certainly lose some of its delicate quality, while gaining structural expressiveness. It may now evoke a slender stegosaurus more than it does a bird.”
The compromised design and enormous cost of the project led to an ongoing controversy, summarized by wikipedia, with a few quotes:
Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post described the station in 2014 as it was being built as “a self-indulgent monstrosity” and “a hideous waste of public money”. Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for The New York Times, referred to the structure as “a kitsch stegosaurus”. New York magazine referred to it in 2015 as it neared completion as a “Glorious Boondoggle.”
I more or less agree with the criticism, especially given the massive cost and fact that so much of the station interior is made up of high-end shops. But is was fun to photograph.
I took a stroll on the High Line on a cloudy August day after a week on Fire Island. The High Line is an urban greenway — a former elevated freight rail line transformed into a park and trail that runs from the West Village and Meatpacking District through Chelsea, ending beyond Penn Station.
Note the funky sculpture in front of a newish apartment building on the High Line, juxtaposed with some old school graffiti and a dramatic piece political art (more on that below). Funky Chelsea buts heads with the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood and new construction along the High Line. (Or, perhaps more accurately: new, high end gentrification on top of and alongside previous, lower rent (relatively speaking) Chelsea gentrification).
“Blind Idealism is . . .” by renowned artist Barbara Kruger, commissioned by Friends of the High Line.
Kruger is an American artist known for “insistently addressing the issues of power, property, money, race, and sexuality. Over the past three decades her work has ranged from the photographic merging of image and text, to immersive video installations, to room-wrapping textual exhibitions, to large-scale outdoor displays of words and images. Two of her best-known works – Your body is a battleground and I shop therefore I am – also showcase the feminist overtones of her artworks, and her concentration on women as a lucrative site for advertising and consumerism.
The original quote — “Blind idealism is reactionary” — came from Afro-Caribbean philosopher and postcolonial revolutionary thinker Frantz Fanon (1925–61), whom Kruger describes as “prescient in some ways.”
And finally, here’s a shot of Straitsmouth Island Lighthouse. According to Lighthouses of Cape Ann “Straitsmouth Light was built in 1835 to mark the entrance to nearby Rockport Harbor [and] is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, but the island itself is owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society as a bird and wildlife sanctuary.”