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HEROIC: BOSTON CONCRETE 1957-1976

January 13, 2010

The historical research and exhibition project HEROIC: BOSTON CONCRETE 1957-1976, by Mark Pasnik, Chris Grimley and Michael Kubo is about the remarkable period in which concrete was used as a building material in the transformation of Boston—creating what was eventually referred to as the “New Boston”, focused on the concrete structures that highlighted the era from the founding of the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 1957 to the re-opening of Quincy Market in 1976.

MARCEL BREUER AND TICIAN PAPACHRISTOU – Madison Park High School, 1974-1978

We can read at the project description:

“Boston was at the forefront of architectural thinking, embracing this new material in a mission to expand and transform the city. There was a great deal of enthusiasm for this work within the architecture community (for instance, nearly every year during this period the Boston Society of Architects awarded the Harleston Parker Medal to a concrete building). Whole new districts and vast infrastructural improvements appeared, serving the needs of government, hospitals, universities, housing, and, to a lesser extent, the financial sector. Some of these developments were important to modernizing the city. Others fractured communities in the name of misguided urban renewal.”

KALLMANN AND MCKINNELL – Boston Five Cents Savings Bank, 1972

THE ARCHITECTS COLLABORATIVE AND SAMUEL GLASER ASSOCIATES – John F. Kennedy Federal Office Building, 1961

SERT, JACKSON AND GOURLEY- Holyoke Center, 1961

The buildings are located in a “Heroic Map”, and were included in the “Heroic” exhibition and are part of pinkcomma‘s ongoing research for a publication on Boston’s concrete architecture from 1957-1976. The sites are clustered in areas principally related to government, institutional, medical, and commercial growth that occurred during this era, as we can see:

Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States, and is considered the economic and cultural center of the region and is sometimes regarded as the unofficial “Capital of New England”. By the early and mid-20th century, the city initiated various urban renewal projects under the direction of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), which was established in 1957. BRA subsequently reevaluated its approach to urban renewal in its future projects, including the construction of Government Center. As Michael Kubo says in his essay Concrete Ideologies “For a native Bostonian, concrete appears largely as a background material. It is seemingly everywhere, providing a steady drumbeat for the governmental, medical, and educational complexes that make up much of the city’s fabric; yet it is seemingly everywhere unremarkable, or at least unremarked upon.”

I. M. PEI & ASSOCIATES – Green Center for Earth Sciences, 1962-1964

LE CORBUSIER WITH SERT, JACKSON AND GOURLEY – Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 1961-1963

We can also quote Eric Höweler at Concrete to Cosmetics to really understand the concrete boom at those years: Exposed concrete emphasizes the unadorned materiality of construction, and privileging of that constructional logic by modernist architects. Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, and Paul Rudolph celebrated the “honest” expression of concrete structures, and emphasized the indexical qualities of the formwork patterns on the concrete. Traces of the construction process are evident in the façade of the building. The directness of structure and expression is readily apparent.”

PEARL STREET ASSOCIATES (F.A. STAHL ASSOCIATES, HUGH STUBBINS AND ASSOCIATES, LEMESSURIER AND ASSOCIATES) – State Street Bank, 1966

MINORU YAMASAKI – Eastern Airlines Terminal, 1971 (Destroyed)

Here we can just add that this kind of research projects are of great value to understand cities history, not only in the architecture field, also in the urban and even cultural and social context.

More info at the HEROIC: BOSTON CONCRETE 1957-1976 web-site.

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