Saturday, October 15, 2011

Blog Post No. 2011-16: MGH creates an enhanced front door on Cambridge Street...

...using a new museum of medical history and innovation as the catalyst.

Photo 1: Looking from across Cambridge Street.

Photo 2: The gap between the Resident Physicians Building.
Photo 3: Looking toward Charles Circle.
The Location: 38 North Grove Street (at Cambridge Street), Boston's West End.

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2011.

The Story: This one kind of came out of nowhere. Your RTUF correspondent prides himself on keeping up to date on what is being built and where here in the Hub. But I didn't notice this until I happened to be walking up Cambridge Street a couple weeks ago. It's an arresting building, quite different from just about everything up and down the street -- all copper sheathing and glass curtain wall with a triangular overhang at the second level. Not a shred of red brick on it. I reckon that only Mass. General could really get away with doing this here, considering that, you know, Mass. General has been around since this part of Boston turned from a portion of the very wet Back Bay/Charles River estuary into dry land. That goes all the way back to 1823, when the Bulfinch Building (designed by perhaps the old town's most beloved architect) was completed eleven years after The General Hospital corporation was created by a special act of the Massachusetts General Court. "MGH" as it is known around Boston needs practically no introduction almost anywhere. It was, in fact, in the so-called "Ether Dome" that the first surgical operation using general anesthetic (in that case, ether) was conducted in 1846 and popularized rapidly, MGH's chief of surgery, John Collins Warren, declaring to those in attendance that "Gentlemen, this is no humbug." And so, it is fitting that MGH should have a museum of medical history and innovation. And it is also fitting that the building should be a bit splashy at this corner, which is really MGH's front door. The extension of the street wall here is incremental - the old resident physicians' building wasn't that far back from the street. But the shielding of the multi-level garage behind is considerably better than before. Combined with the improvements already noted at this weblog to Charles River Plaza and the Saltonstall Building, we can see that Cambridge Street continues on the urban design upswing. A couple more of the gaps filled in and we'll have a real boulevard to be proud of. Patience and appropriately tempered expectations are truly virtues.

RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: The existing Physicians' Residence building wasn't bad, but it really didn't provide the kind of on-the-street experience that the new building does. And it did precious little to shield the garage structure behind.

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