Sunday, September 29, 2013

This time, for once, not what McMorrow said... (Blog Post No. 2013-9)

In another of our series on what's happening in coverage of the urban fabric in local media ("they write about it, we give it the once over"), I come today to disagree with the generally very sound Paul McMorrow and his recent opinion piece in the Boston Globe advocating for the demolition of Boston City Hall and its sale as a development site for one or more high-rise towers to punctuate the High Spine's end in downtown west (the last bit about the High Spine is my reading into what Paul is saying). The piece can be found here - Boston City Hall Should Be Torn Down - and while it's as well written as usual, it's just not doing it for your correspondent.

I will stipulate that the building is an affront in almost every way (though it's thankfully not a high-rise itself). But the real problem with City Hall from the perspective of living and working and just being in this, our fair city, is its total lack of urban conviviality, its open hostility in the way in which it meets everything around it. Faithful members of RTUF Nation may recall that yours truly blogged about this issue some time ago in A response and a concern, and what I said then goes quadruple after reading the arguments offered by David Friedman, my fellow Bostonian living up the road in Jamaica Plain who happens, not without importance for the discussion there and here, to be a professor emeritus of architectural history at MIT, in his letter to the editors of the Globe in response to the article ("An American Classic"). Maybe he's more than just a "casual observer," but the good professor's letter merely proves, if there remained any meaningful doubt, the building's defenders are largely, if not exclusively, object building fetishists with virtually no regard for the consequences of foisting what amounts to an oversized modernist sculpture on a critically important urban location. And I quite frankly can't see that opening up the atrium at the middle of the building solves any of the problems with the building that matter to me.

All of that said, I'm not with Paul on tearing the building down. I may have been born and raised in New York and I am very comfortable with tall buildings, but I don't see big height as critical at this location. I'd rather see the city make a real go at opening up the building to the adjacent plaza and, as importantly, Congress Street and filling in the broad array of dead spaces on its perimeter before we decide to tear it down and go somewhere else.