And now for something completely different...
Location: 100 Stuart Street, Boston, MA (MAP)
Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2009
The Photos: Walking along Stuart Street, from the corner at Tremont Street toward Charles Street.
The Story: Finally completed and opened just a couple of months ago, the W Hotel Boston substantially changes the dynamic at the corner of Tremont and Stuart streets in the heart of Boston's theater district. The Charles Playhouse is down Warrenton Street, the Wang and Wilbur theaters are across Tremont Street, the Shubert's right next door, the Emerson Majestic is a block up Tremont, and the Colonial is up and around the corner on Boylston Street. Most recently, art house cinema returned to Boston at the Stuart Street Playhouse two blocks over. Despite its central location, for at least as long as I've lived in Boston (since 1997), this site was the archetypal urban fabric no-no: a surface parking lot occupying a full city block at a key downtown intersection.
The architecture here is uncompromisingly modernist in style, though the building's placement on its site suggests its designers were more than happy to come out and meet the street directly with lots of ground floor activity and transparency. Of course, this is a fairly tight urban site with no space to waste anyway. While the building is a clear departure from much of what's around it, there has been little open hostility to its ultimate arrival, especially given its overall height and facades that proceed directly to the buidling's full height without any stepping back.
This may be a good point at which to discuss Boston's "High Spine." As with so many things having to do with architecture, urban design, and planning in Boston, Robert Campbell recently (in 2006) covered this topic in the Boston Globe (link here) elegantly and with an eye toward what is truly important about it, especially its accordance with Boston's "basic DNA" as a craggy peninsula connected to the mainland by a narrow neck, even if the original Boston Neck was a bit more to the south and east. Here let it be said that the High Spine has, since its endorsement in 1961 by the Boston Society of Architets' Committee on Civic Design, provided a remarkably durable and understandable conceptual framework for where tall buildings outside of the city's Financial District should be located. That is, in a "High Spine" stretching from the area around Kenmore Square on the west, running eastward on a line through the Prudential Center, Copley Square, and Park Plaza (thereby threading the needle between the Back Bay and the South End atop the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension, the MBTA Orange and Green lines, and the main Amtrak/Commuter Rail corridor). Major and easily recognizable peaks on the High Spine today include the Prudential building itself and the "old" (the one with the weather beacon on top) and "new" (designd by I.M. Pei) Hancock towers, but there are many less lofty peaks along the length of the spine, including the Millennium Center development from earlier this decade and, now, the W Hotel. It may well be that the location of this new building along the High Spine explains why, at least at this point (several years after its approvals were obtained), its realization has caused little angst among the populace. All in all, it's a welcome addition to the urban ensemble.
RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: I'm pretty sure that the dimesions on the building's notch along the Tremont Street side are not accurate, but you get the general idea.