Monday, May 30, 2016

"I will breathe after my own fashion"

I imagine my house, as it is shrouded in wood and surrounded by trees, to be a cabin like Thoreau's cabin in Concord, not 200 years nor 20 miles hence. Indeed, my house already had stood a generation before he started building his and ruminating around that pond. To tell the world of my apprenticeship to him, I shall carve his words above my door, "I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest."

Friday, May 27, 2016

Friday Grab Bag: Thoreau on Walking

Friday is Grab Bag Day, and usually I reserve the Grab Bag for the irreverent or the inane. But as you may remember, I am also a Henry David Thoreau fan, and since I'm lacking any good tidbits from the Laugh Department this week (other than the steady drumbeat of the terrifying idiocy out of Donald Trump), I'm going to offer the opening sentences from Walking, Thoreau's meditation on the subject written shortly before his death in May 1862. It's a lovely little thing.

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil, -- to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school-committee, and every one of you will take care of that.
I have met one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, -- who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering: which word is beautifully derived "from the idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of a la Sainte Terre," to the Holy Land , till the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer," a Saunterer, a Holy Lander. Those who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sam Kopper and his incredible green bus

This morning I met a local legend completely by accident. Sam Kopper has been around the Boston music scene for decades, going as far back as the 1970s, but this morning he was outside the new Sullivan Tire Store on Beacon Street in Somerville with his green bus and his assistant Justin Vining. 

Sam Kopper and Justin Vining in front of the Locomote green bus
Together, Sam and Justin are Locomote Media, and if you've never heard of them, you're not alone. But they were the reason the WERS morning show could come to you from a tire store this morning.

Sullivan Tire, WERS and the green bus
Sam started this whole gig back in 1975, when he bought an old Boston school bus and converted it into a mobile home of sorts. In the finest hippie style of the era, he completed it with a cedar shower, and a small broadcast studio as well. Over time, the living space in the bus shrank and the broadcast studio grew, until he just simply decided to stop living in buses and use the whole thing for music. 

A bus is useful for live broadcasts because sound engineers need a place free from noise to get proper mixing done. Mixing from the music venue during the performance means the sound from the show impacts sound levels. In a bus parked in a parking lot, everything is easier.
Justin inside the broadcast studio
Long connected with the famous local radio station WBCN in Boston, Sam Kopper says the first live show he ever did was Bonnie Raitt with Maria Muldaur as the opener. That would have been a long time ago.

This morning, he was just chilling in the parking lot, and I was very honored to meet him. 

Here's a cool video Sam pulled together of his morning with WERS and George Knight at the new Sullivan Tire in Somerville. It even includes some live music ...

Sam, Justin and the incredible green bus

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Council's Housing Committee meets last night on inclusionary zoning report

The Cambridge City Council’s Housing Committee delved into the inclusionary zoning report last night at the Citywide Senior Center for the first of their two hearings in May. Mayor Denise Simmons chaired the meeting and was joined by vice mayor Marc McGovern and councilors Craig Kelley, Jan Devereux and Dennis Carlone. 

Since the purpose of the session was information gathering and generating questions for the consultant, David Paul Rosen & Associates, most of the councillors’ time was spent listening to public testimony.  The consultants will be in Cambridge on May 31.

Questions from the audience included ...
  • Should the Housing Authority or CDD be given the right of first refusal in the purchase of additional units?
  • Is six units the lowest number of units that the rule should apply to?
  • Should "substantial rehabilitation" be a criteria that triggers the inclusionary requirements as well as new construction?
  • How will we evaluate the program?
  • How much time is reasonable to get new inclusionary rules done?
  • Is the proper time to review this policy after three years, not five?
  • Do inclusionary units lower housing values in a city?
  • How many mobile vouchers are there in Cambridge?
  • How many current projects will be exempt because they are already in the permitting process? 

During the councilors time to offer comments, councilor Carlone noted the pressing need for housing in the city and vice mayor McGovern stated that the task here is to figure what number is high enough that we are getting everything we can out of developers, but not so high that we shut down housing production.  City manager Rich Rossi echoed McGovern's sentiments, saying he felt that was the task to get as much out of developers while avoiding legal challenge to the policy.

The deadline for additional written question for the consultant should be sent to the City Council's Housing Committee by no later than next Wednesday, May 25. 

The May 31 meeting of the Housing Committee will take place at 6:30 pm in the Council Chamber and it will be televised.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

ABC hosts city officials at packed meeting last night

If last night’s A Better Cambridge meeting is any indication, people in the city are genuinely concerned about the housing crisis and the lack of affordability and they are looking for ways do something about it. 

[Note: The City Council's Housing Committee met on Wednesday to begin their deliberations on the inclusionary zoning report and here are my notes on that.]

Residents packed the second floor room at CCTV to capacity to hear the city’s chief housing planner Chris Cotter talk about the new inclusionary zoning report as well as to hear Melissa Peters of the Cambridge Community Development Department outline the Envision Cambridge planning effort underway.  
A Better Cambridge meeting last night 
The message from both Cotter and Peters is that we are early in a long community-based process and it is important for citizens to engage in both these discussions in the coming months.

A Better Cambridge hosted last night's meeting to keep its members informed and ABC leader Jesse Kanson-Benanav was pleased with the turnout, noting that citizen involvement will be crucial, "Planners need to be informed by the people. It's critical to a creation of a successful policy, a successful plan."

Chris Cotter
The housing crisis has been on Cambridge's radar for years now, as rental and sale prices have continued to escalate faster than inflation. Former CDD director, the late Brian Murphy, raised the issue years ago, though at the time there was not the political will to address it. Cotter described last night's meeting as part of the question-gathering phase of the process and noted that the City Council’s Housing Committee will hold a public hearing tonight at the Citywide Senior Center on Mass Ave, the first of two public hearings in May on the subject. At the second hearing later this month, the consultant who prepared the report will be in Cambridge to hear comments and take questions from citizens.
Of the many issues raised in the inclusionary zoning report, Cotter noted specifically that in the area of homeownership affordability there is a push to include income levels up to 100 percent of Area Median Income as a way of addressing the very high purchase prices in Cambridge.

Melissa Peters said that the plan Envision Cambridge will be placing significant emphasis on outreach, recognizing that her ultimate challenge is to make sure that this plan, $3.3 million in the making, will not “end up on a shelf”.
Melissa Peters

In response to the audience question, "What happens when the Cambridge real estate market cools and underlying economic conditions change?", both Cotter and Peters acknowledged the need to address this in their approaches, and developers themselves have raised the issue in other forums arguing that the wrong balance of carrots and sticks may drive them away and drive down housing production.

Audience comments were thoughtful and indicated a depth of passion but also a level of insight on complex and at times quite technical issues that can also be very emotional. 

Questions were thoughtful, informed and to the point
Joining the meeting last night were city councilors Craig Kelley and Marc McGovern.

ABC’s leadership team, including Kanson-Benanav, Pam Thilo, Alec Papazian and former city councilor Sam Seidel committed to make sure its membership stay plugged into both these processes going forward, and announced the next ABC meeting will look at the Mass + Main project soon to break ground in Central Square. Stay tuned for more info there.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Restaurant review(s). Sarma and WuBurger

I did not go to Sarma last Thursday with the intention of reviewing it, nor did I go to WuBurger on Saturday with the intention of reviewing it, but each offers a good glimpse into the local restaurant scene that I wanted to add my scribbles to the plate.

Sarma on Pearl Street in Somerville is a magical place, and if you read nothing else in this review, read this next sentence …. This is an amazing restaurant with amazing food and you should go as soon as you can. 

It is the next in chef Ana Sortun’s local empire, which already includes Cambridge’s Oleana and Sofra, and focuses on the small Middle Eastern meze plates, light tasting fare that are mixed and matched on the table. Simply delicious is the only way to describe what I ate. It included an out-of-this-world chicken dish that was brought to the table on spec in case we wanted to buy it and try it. Although we had passed on a soft shell crab dish earlier, thankfully we didn’t pass on this one. We were treated to a simply spectacular set of flavors in this lightly fried sesame wonder. The fried olives also redounded, though my white bean pate was less exciting. Dessert was delicious.

There are many other wonderful things to note about Sarma … the restaurant interior is spacious and comfortable. Vibrant is also an accurate word, the restaurant was simply buzzing with life, filled to the brim with diners. I also recommend getting a mixed drink. The one I had to start was a surprise, unexpected and unexpectedly good. 

Finally, since eating out is as much about the experience as it is about the food, location of a restaurant can play a helpful supporting role. Tucked into a corner location in a residential neighborhood, you get the sense of walking into a movie set when you approach Sarma. Can’t recommend this place highly enough.

WuBurger by comparison just doesn’t rate. A local restaurant chain that started last fall in Woburn, WuBurger's newest location is in Inman Square in Cambridge. There is nothing out-and-out bad about it — I mean honestly, how hard is it to screw up a burger? — but the food was uninspired and uninspiring. And too salty. My biggest complaint about my Wu Burger was that it was just too damn salty. And the Wu Sauce, which is their proverbial “special sauce", was basically tasteless. The milkshake I had was good, but again — how hard to make that badly? — and the donuts for dessert were heavy and uninspiring. The one unmitigated success for Wu Burger is its interior decor, which gives a friendly, functional atmosphere to the place. So, my summation recommendation is, try it if you want, but don't hold your breath for taste Nirvana. And to WuBurger: Less salt makes for better burger. 


249 Pearl Street, Somerville
617 764 4464 (Make reservations!)

1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Seen in Burlington today: Aston Martin Vulcan

A beast of a car landed in Massachusetts today and I went to see it. 

British car maker Aston Martin made only 24 of the monster machines it calls the Vulcan, and only two of those made their way to the United States. One of them showed up at the Mercedes Benz dealership in Burlington this morning. How can you resist trekking out there to take a look? 

Suffice it to say, the Vulcan is unique - a wild combo of insane styling, outrageously-sized engine bay and massive rear wing. The car is a behemoth and it's really quite hard to imagine how anyone would ever drive it, but so special is it that I'm very glad I was there. Here is a short video of the car starting its engine and driving off:

Below are my photos and of this one-of-a-kind maniac track machine.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Seen in Cambridge: a Porsche GT2

Yesterday, I saw a Porsche GT2 parked on the street. A very rare car by any measure, the GT2 is an exceptionally rare car for a city like Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was in front of Savenor's Market on Kirkland Street.

One of the very few 200 mph plus Porsches, the GT2 saw limited production runs, with very few of those coming to the United States. Lucky owners are now watching resale values climb quickly. For the techno nerds, here are some performance figures (courtesy of Wikipedia): 
The American auto magazine Motor Trend tested a 2008 Porsche 911 GT2, achieving a 0-60 mph time of 3.3 seconds, and a quarter mile of 11.3 seconds at 129.1 mph (207.8 km/h). The GT2 also recorded a braking distance from 60 to 0 mph of 98 feet (30 m), and 1.10g of lateral grip.
Cambridge is not exactly known as a car Mecca, unless of course you consider Subarus and Priuses worthy of the status, so a rarity such as this stands out. For a burgeoning car nut as myself, spotting a GT2 on the street is meaningful.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Interview. Chris Johns talks about the Hayden Building, an H.H. Richardson structure in Boston that he restored

In 2014, I had the chance to sit down with Chris Johns to talk about one of his most exciting projects as a young architect, restoring the Hayden Building. 

The Hayden Building is a hidden gem in Boston's Chinatown, with a fascinating history. For one, it's an H.H. Richardson building though for years, people did not know it. Only after some excellent detective work did that come to light. 

Over the 140 years of its existence, the Hayden Building has also watched its neighborhood change as times have changed, from being a 19th century textile hub to the 1970s when this area was called the Combat Zone for good reason, filled as it was with peep shows, prostitutes and drugs. Today, it witnesses yet another transformation as tall buildings and high-end condos spring up all around it, an expression of 21st century wealth.

Chris took some time to give us his perspective on it all, and tell us what it was like as a young architect working on such a significant building. 

Chris Johns, thank you so much for agreeing to talk to us about the Hayden Building. Tell us about the building.

The Hayden Building is a building designed by Henry Hobson Richardson in 1875 in the edge of
Chinatown off Washington Street and Lagrange. It was not known for a really long time that Richardson designed the building. A story has it that it was designed for his father-in-law, as an off-the-books repayment. There is no exact documentation of it. It is clear that John C. Hayden, Richardson’s father-in-law did help him launch his practice.

It was the 1860s when this project probably got started. There was a large explosion on the site of a pharmacy that is now currently the Hayden Building so that paved the way for John C. Hayden to purchase that land and for Richardson to design this commercial office building. 

Do you know anything about the neighborhood at the time?

That part of Chinatown and the lower downtown Boston area was predominantly textiles, manufacturing, clothing stores, hats and coat stores. There were a number of those kinds of tenants in there records at the Hayden Building at the turn of the century, even up to the ‘30s and ‘40s and then the things started to shift a bit and in the '60s the Combat Zone era took place. So it became quite seedy and there were a number of adult entertainment establishments in the Hayden Building on various floors.

Tell me a little about the building architecturally. 

It’s signature Richardsonian architecture. Richardson established the Richardsonian style which is very massive, heavy looking buildings, big pieces of stone. The Hayden Building was built the same time that Trinity Church in Copley Square was being
constructed, which is also a Richardson building. And this is how historians figured it out because the brownstone on the Hayden Building comes from the same quarry at the same time that the brownstone was used for the Trinity Church in Copley Square.

Also the Norcross Brothers who were the contractors for Trinity Church were the contractors for the Hayden Building. It was not until they found there was a building permit pulled in 1874 for the Hayden Building, they saw that the Norcross brothers were the contractors on the building. Those stories thread together and make a lot of sense that this was done around the same time. It’s all the same players. 

The building itself was the precursor to the modern skyscraper in the sense that whole building blocks take up massive blocks in metropolitan areas. Richardson was known for his Marshall Field warehouse in Chicago and the Hayden Building predated that project. You can see a lot of the same proportioning. The building is about 65 feet tall. For that time that a tall building. It’s narrow. The Washington Street exterior is about 19 feet wide. The length along Lagrange is about 70 feet. 

He was restricted by the lot size. That property was

proportioned like that. There was very much an attempt to design a building that could continue
around the whole block. That’s where I think this building was a study of what he ultimately did at Marshall Field where he’s trying to create a wall. A building block makes a facade that’s a continuous wall around the entire block. Either side could extend, but you see it more on Lagrange, and you see the patterning of windows as they march along.

Talk about those windows briefly.

When we got into the building, we’d only seen it from the outside, but once we’d learned where the floor structure was for each floor elevation, we learned that each window is a different size and slightly different shape and its relationship to its floor is different.

The window sills on the second floor come all the way down to the floor line. On the third floor they are more standard, three feet sills above the finished floor. On the fourth floor, again they’re really low, but still they are about 12 inches from the floor. On the fifth floor, the pattern completely changes, much more repetitive, many more windows, smaller scale.

And what do you take from all that? Is that a Richardsonian thing? 

This is a further clue that he was more concerned about the exterior facade and the proportions of the way the facade reads from the street as opposed to any kind of interior relationship of the floor to the window, not necessarily the occupants relationship to the window. However doing a lot of research in his residential work, he was very concerned about the occupant inside and the occupant's relationship to the window and how that mediates the outside.

How old was Richardson when he designed this building? 

He was in his thirties. He died at 48. He died very young but he was very prolific. He did tons of projects particularly in the Northeast. So I think he was in mid-30s.
H.H. Richardson

Let’s pick up the story around the time you get involved with the building. It had a modern, recent history. What was that history? 

Our client was Historic Boston Incorporated. Their mission is to enhance neighborhoods through the preservation of historically significant buildings and urban fabric. They've been in existence for a long time, I think 52 years now in the city. They’ve been a player in that area for a while. They purchased the Hayden Building and its adjacent building in the early 1990s because at this time now everyone knew it was a Richardson building. They applied for the building to be nominated for the National Trust of Historic Places. 

A fire had vacated the building in the late 1980s so the roof was left open. It was falling into disrepair and was taking a beating by the elements. So their initial efforts physically with the resource was to try to stabilize it, put a new roof on it, make sure the windows were closed up. They did some structural things inside to fortify the building. It was starting to slump. The long facade along Lagrange street was starting to bow out. There’s no reinforcement. It is all heavy stone and so it was showing quite a bit of wear. At that point it was about 120 years old.

Was it burned out clear to the sky? 

There were still floors. The second and third floor were relatively intact. The fourth floor had some damage. The fifth floor had some damage and the roof was opened by the fire. There was a big gaping hole in the roof. So water and rain got in and you can see the sky when you looked up. They did a fair amount of work then, just to get the building closed up. That was in the 1990s. 

Ten years passed or more. They looked at different strategies, whether developing it as speculative commercial office again which was its original use. They looked at trying to do housing in the building at various of points but it had a number of challenges with egress. There was only one staircase in the building. The fact that it was so narrow made it very challenging to develop as housing and the structural modifications or fortification that they did in the '90s with these steel brace moment frames and braces within the building chopped it up and that again provided another hurdle in terms of redeveloping the interiors of the building for housing.

How did you show up on the scene in this case?

I met my two business partners, founders of Cube Design and Research at a small junior college in Florida. We matriculated through school together. In different ways we ended up in the northeast in Boston at MIT. All three of us were roommates at MIT. Jason Hart and Aaron Malnarick. We were roommates when Jason’s father asked us to design a beach house for him while we were still graduate students, all about 24 years old. And so we designed the beach house during the final couple of semesters at MIT.  His father built the house we designed. We submitted it for design awards. We won a custom home design award for the house and it was published in a national magazine. Here we were, we thought were hot stuff and maybe we should start a firm together. We were quite naive and in some ways that’s a good thing. 

The Paul Rudolph building in question
We launched the firm however we were in no position to make a living at it. We continued to work for other firms. I had a stint in San Diego and we worked collaboratively nights and weekends working on projects for friends and for things that were interesting to us, one of which was a particular project that was going on here in Boston that the papers were calling it the Menino Tower. It was a development that was going to take place on a site that was a Paul Rudolph building called the Blue Cross Blue Shield building on Federal Street, in the heart of the financial district. 

Paul Rudolph was another well-known architect of mid-century prominence. He is know for his brutalist work. City Hall is not his, but the other municipal buildings on Cambridge Street are. He’s done some educational building on the outskirts of Boston and a church near
Paul Rudolph
Copley Square. A lot of architects and preservationists in town were upset that this Paul Rudolph building was going to be torn down to be replaced by this modern tower designed by Renzo Piano.

This is in 2006-07, and we’re still working on other things. We got to thinking that no one’s talking about the middle ground. You have the preservations who are saying no you can’t build the tower, no you can’t tear down the Paul Rudolph building, it’s precious, there’s nothing wrong with it, why would you do it, and then have the developers who are trying to make a big tower, economically change Boston. No one was looking at the middle ground.

What is the middle ground? 

What are the alternatives? Maybe there’s a way to incorporate the Paul Rudolph into the base of this tower that’s 100 stories tall. Is there a way to dismantle or deconstruct the Paul Rudolph building so that we could still use it in situations or repurpose it in a way that continues its life in some form.

Why should we care? 

What we’ve tried to do is — the contrast of new and old together makes you more aware of each as opposed to just trying to hold back something stuck in the past. There are obviously cases where that makes a lot of sense. But with these buildings that are a little more generic, in the sense of the Hayden Building was a speculative commercial building, it wasn’t designed for anyone specific. The Paul Rudolph building downtown was a commercial building. It had some significance architecturally with some of the way it was detailed and thought about but in terms of its place, it could have been anywhere.

And how old are you at this point?

We now into our early 30s.

So how did you approach the Hayden Building as a project?

We did a feasibility study for very little money and we went all out. We wanted to impress them, we wanted to get the full building commission to the whole design project, and there were no guarantees. 

Once you got the project, what did you think?

We were elated. We realized they were taking a big risk on a very young firm in a city that is an Old Boys Network. There were a lot of much more experienced firms that were more than capable. They took a risk with us and we appreciate that. 

Talk about some of the solutions you came up with.

We did a lot of research on the history of the neighborhood, on the history of the building, trying to synthesize a lot of things that were going on at the time with Richardson. We looked at a lot of Richardson buildings to try to understand what he was doing, what he was thinking.

What did you derive from all of that?

We were reshaping this building for this century and giving it a new life, but we also wanted to bring to light the ideas that originally shaped the building. What were Richardson’s ideas and how can we bring those to the surface so people can begin to understand what he was doing as an architect at the time? Richardson was no theorist. He wasn’t one of those architects out there saying, “This is my theory, this is what I’m doing in my practice.” He just made buildings and he had a way of making them.

In the residential work he did, he was very concerned with people’s connection to the outdoors, the way material was used on walls, he often used a horizontal datum within spaces, the common wood panelling or wainscoting that you see in that period of homes. And windows were treated very importantly. I think he was trying to contrast with the Beaux Arts style.

He was very intrigued with this notion of a monotonous facade, homogeneous material but playing with the fenestration and the patterning of the windows to bring the building down to a human scale, down to a scale that you can understand as you move along that building. The windows at the base are larger, the windows near the top are smaller and there are more of them. There is a kind of extension of the way the building looks as you move up the facade. He’s grouping windows together in certain patterns. 

What did you find out about the neighborhood. What did you find out about the layering of the history of the building?

When we came into the project, in early conversations Historic Boston had tuned us in to a lot of the history because as a historic preservation group, they are very interested in those kinds of stories. 

The Hayden Building is on the corner of Washington and Lagrange. That corner had a number of burlesque theaters adult entertainment theaters. Some of those are now gone, one in particular across the street has been repurposed. There were discoveries of films that had been left behind, 8mm films, in the Hayden Building. They had stacks and stacks of films.

These are porn films. This was because this was a vacant building and these films may have been collected from some of the other theaters and the Hayden Building was the last one standing that wasn’t being renovated or torn down.

This building stood right in the heart of the Combat Zone, and the Combat Zone was what exactly?

From what I understand from the photographs, it was a place where young men would come and drive down the street and talk to prostitutes and pick up prostitutes. There were all kinds of peep show facilities, bath houses, bars. It was the Red Light District.

We looked in the old phone books and we discovered all the tenants over the course of the century. That’s how we found out there was a dentist there and a doctor’s office and an Army-Navy store and so-and-so’s hat shop and all these different things.

And including a movie theater and a peep show called The Screen Room. There was a gay bathhouse on the upper stories. We found copies of notices posted on the doors to inform patrons of the place what happens when the police show up. We took a lot of this research and we made a number of layered glass panels of images and text that define these different eras and those are placed in the stairwell of the building.

What do you do with all that history in a building that has lived 150 years? 

Ultimately, with the architecture itself we tried to reveal aspects of the building that show you the
bones and the life and the scars of time. We had some restrictions because it was a federal and state funded project with historic tax credits and so there was only so much of that we could do given the allowable aspects of the construction and the building code but we did try to reveal some of the physical scars.

What’s your personal attitude about all of that?

It gets back to the bigger argument of these projects that get held up in these contentious debates about what to do with them. It isn’t that helpful when you have a place like Boston that's in a major shortage of housing, there are these run-down warehouse that have good bones that can be repurposed and reused to help move us forward and to alleviate some of the pressures that we have living in a city like Boston and if we’re stifling that development because of some reason that Joe Schmo lived there and he made watches. We need to think about how can we carry that cultural history forward but still redevelop this building so that it’s useful today. 

What do you think about this - when that building was built it seems like it was one of the tallest buildings in the neighborhood but now it is one of the shortest?
Now it's one of the smallest buildings on the block

What is going in that neighborhood today is that the Hayden Building is on the edge of Chinatown which is a very fine-grained 3-4 story scaled building, lots of street life, lots of vendors on the street, very vibrant, lots of activity. There is a lot of pressure coming down on Chinatown from all directions and that is being seen with a lot of tall residential towers including the Hayden Building. The Hayden Building is going to be this brownstone gem among this very flat, monolithic glass and concrete buildings.

How should we think about that change?

There’s something to be said about having the mix of new and old sharing the same space and being able to understand the historic context of a place. This may be a neighborhood where there may not be enough of this historic fabric to understand what was there. That’s unfortunate, but at the same time given the pressures that we have in Boston with lack of residential units, there’s got to be a balance somehow.

A Richardson building has some design intent there, but some of the buildings don’t have anything near design intent, correct?

There’s been a big push in the last couple of years to get a number of buildings and projects through and I’m not going to criticize our local government — I think there’s enough criticism to go around — needless to say, there’s been a number of not so great buildings constructed. With a little more investment and a little more care and a little more thought, it could have gone a lot better, particularly in the area around the Hayden Building but urbanistically a building like the Hayden Building — and there are plenty of other examples in Boston — they have a certain presence even though they are going to be completely out of scale and swallowed up by all the other towers, I think they have a certain street presence that people will notice.

What’s next for you? Where do you take these thoughts and observations?

We were very blessed to be a part of the aligning of the stars to be a part of this project. There may not be anything else like this down the road. This one had a very special life and very unique history and various players involved over the course of time and attempts to redevelop the building and we just happened to be at the right place at the right time. 

Going back to the question of history - How do you deal with the past and the future? That is a fascinating tension. There are plenty of reasons to preserve the past. At the same time, we have to have a future. What’s your take on this question? You dealt with a very historic building and with very famous American architect. You had to manage that somehow and yet it's a neighborhood that’s changing radically and quickly for lots of potentially good reasons but it’s also becoming sanitized, where you lose something in that as well. As a guy in his 30s who’s thinking about this stuff, how should we make sense of all that and make choices within that?

It begins with understanding the history and the past. That’s where we begin our projects. We want to understand the history of all the writings and erasures that have taken place on that building or that site, so that as we move forward, that’s informing us. Whether it’s a reinterpretation of the history or it’s a way to clearly document that history and make it event in this new life of a building, that’s something that we want to do. It’s personal and it’s important to us. I don’t think all architects and urban planners and designers necessarily think that way. It may be becoming more prominent particularly in a city like Boston where you’re having to deal with so many existing conditions and historically significant existing condition. So long as we practice in a city like this, we are going to be faced with that challenge and so we want to embrace it, we want to be informed by it. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Era of the Wise Men, now dead, began today

On May 8, 1945, General Wilhelm Keitel signed the German surrender in Berlin, ending World War II in Europe.

This signature not only ended the war, but ushered in a period of American leadership globally, and an era of bi-partisan consensus politics on these shores, particularly in foreign affairs.

When historians get enough distance and perspective on this time, they will see that it was a relatively short period in the longer sweep of American politics, and in the grand scope of things, it was an aberration.

Nevertheless, the three decades following the end of World War II should be called the Era of the Wise Men, when decisions of grave import on matters of war and peace and matters of health and welfare were deputized to a series of unelected men coming from both parties. The era was exemplified by people like John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, James Forrestal, William Donovan, George Kennan, Dean Acheson. It culminated in the Kennedy administration with its Best and the Brightest, Dean Rusk, McGeorge Bundy, Robert McNamara.

After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and with the onset of Vietnam, the Era of the Wise Men crumbled under its own weight, and perhaps because of its own hubris. Nixon, cynic that he was, exploited the innate American distrust of elites. Jimmy Carter with his folksy Georgia wisdom and Christian conservatism also downplayed traditional power centers and the people they produced. Reagan too managed to plot a road to the White House independent of them.

Nevertheless, the shadow of this time lingers long. Most people of leadership age today grew up during the waning years of the Wise Men, and of course they apply its lessons incorrectly to current challenges. Today’s political discussion fails to acknowledge that this brief period of post-war consensus is finally fully dead and gone. At the same time, there could be no better example of its death and the arrival of a next era in our politics than presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ronald Reagan is finally dead, and it is Donald Trump who killed him

Now that Ted Cruz has unleashed his extraordinary televised rant against Donald Trump, and John Boehner likewise called Ted Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh" a few days ago, we can all agree that Ronald Reagan is finally dead, done and gone.

One of the Gipper's most lasting legacies for his party was his oft-repeated 11th Commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

The phrase actually owes its birth to California Republican Party chairman Gaylord Parkinson, who coined it in an effort to avoid the vicious internecine warfare that hounded Barry Goldwater in his ill-fated 1964 run. Reagan just adopted it and popularized it.

Who's to blame in this most recent iteration of the demise of the Grand Old Party? None other than party's front-runner and likely nominee, Donald Trump who from Day One brought the tone down down down. Clearly, his charms have become infectious.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Georgia on my mind

This past week, I spent a few days wandering the highways and byways of Georgia (see below for the reason), and I found Martin Luther King's quote on repeat in my head. “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood.” The reds of Georgia are everywhere so I took some photos ...


I stopped in the wonderful college town of Athens, home of the University of Georgia. It feels like every other college town I know … Berkeley, Ithaca, Austin, Cambridge. Actually, it’s better than Cambridge. Athens at least hasn’t lost its funk.

But it has this amazing sign among the buildings of its lovely North Quad ...

The old South is never far away even when you’re in the new South.

As I waited for my waffles and bacon in the Waffle House near campus early the next morning, I

overheard two older white men at the counter talking sports. I thought, “These are not bad men by any means. Southern men. Sons of Georgia. Locals. Born in the 1940s or ‘50s. Children in the 1960s. Not filled with the vile racism of their parents. But I am certain in their heart of hearts, they think the South lost the Civil War because it wasn’t good enough, it just didn’t have sufficient stuff to bring to the fight.” The thought brought back historian Shelby Foote’s anecdote that in 1864, at the height of the war, there were still enough young men walking around Cambridge and New Haven to stage a crew race between Harvard and Yale, when in that same year the doors of the University of Georgia had to be shuttered entirely because every one of its young men was either off fighting or soon to be. "The South didn’t lose for lack of resources," I decided. "It lost because it was wrong, which is a different proposition altogether."

Still, the campus North Quad was … majestic ... stately ... beautiful? No, the word I'm looking for is sumptuous.

Now, as to the reason for my visit, it was my car obsession that brought me there. Some seat time in a Porsche and a Ford Mustang GT at Road Atlanta was all the convincing I needed to hop on plane and fly down. The track and the cars were thrilling.

Since this post started as a car review, let me give a quick review of the track experience. At the end of the day, the tight German engineering of the 911 outshone the straight-forward urge of the Ford, though both cars deliver plenty of power and performance with ease. Its just that the Porsche doles it out in more manageable bites, with more consistent feedback to the driver. The Ford heaps everything onto the plate at once. To compensate for this, the Mustang softens the shocks, smooths out the gear shifts, and mixes pure power with a touch of luxury cruise-ability. It's really in the handling of the two cars where differences become obvious. The Porsche grips the road better courtesy of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, offering a more predictable package overall, and connects the car to the road is ways unheard of in the Ford.

The Mustang is all get-up-and-go.  The push of the five-liter engine and the smaller tires lowers the confidence that it actually will make it around a corner, but man, shifting into fifth gear on the straight reminded me why we love the rumble of an American motor! In the end, I preferred the Porsche for its overall driving characteristics and driving pleasure.

The Road Atlanta instructors joked that the South wouldn't be the South without a refrigerator on the porch. To wrap it all up, I'll add to that ... "or some rusty cars on the front lawn" ...