Everyday use

By DAVID EISEN  |  October 10, 2007

Architecture and landscape design also suffer in this tightly controlled environment. Preston Scott Cohen’s design for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is based on an ingenious system for distorting space to provide a compelling exhibition environment, but the relationship of the complex interiors and shell-like exterior is never clearly articulated. Field Operations is a firm that operates at the confluence of landscape architecture, urban redevelopment, and ecological investigation in projects like the renewal of Manhattan’s abandoned High Line elevated railroad (with ICA architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro) and the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. Yet the ideas that motivate their work don’t come through in the otherwise seductive graphics.

The exhibit’s organization doesn’t promote an understanding of the cross-disciplinary nature of so much of this work, isolating architecture, fashion, furniture, and graphics into their own areas rather than grouping them by their generating ideas or similarities in form or structure. Neither does it say much about design for anyone outside the developed world, with the exception of Architecture for Humanity’s emergency shelters and community facilities. “Design Life Now” may be gorgeous to look at and fun to explore, but it’s not particularly profound.

Buried in a South End basement at Pinkcomma Gallery is a much smaller exhibit that addresses critical urban issues with thought-provoking ingenuity. Five young, local architectural firms rethink Boston City Hall and confront the broader question of how to transform cities and public spaces. ArchitectureBoston magazine commissioned the proposals in response to the mayor’s vow to sell off City Hall, after decades of neglect, and create a waterfront monument to his reign.

City Hall’s impenetrable walls, deep shadows, and scale-less monumentality can seem intimidating, obscuring any sense of how the building is to be entered or used, but the same can be said of Roman ruins or mediæval castles, structures that we consider inspirations. The competition-winning design from Kallmann and McKinnell was hailed as a masterpiece when completed in 1968; like Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Guggenheim Museum, it touched the spirit and defined a time and place. Times change, and buildings have to change too, but as ArchitectureBoston editor Elizabeth Padjen puts it in the October issue, “Boston doesn’t have to build a new city hall in order to get a new city hall.”

All the architects at Pinkcomma take the ruin-like quality of the building as a starting point, reinhabiting the plaza and its towering concrete colonnades with new constructions that bring in light, color, and clarity. Höweler + Yoon Architecture wraps the building with an elevated walkway that extends the plaza up over the roof and then penetrates the structure with public pathways to define entry and interior circulation. Kuo.Chaouni with Uenal Karamuk strips away the building’s massive brick base to allow the plaza to continue through to Congress Street, creating transparency and connection. Single Speed Design uses landscaping to tie Boston Common to City Hall Plaza, Quincy Market, and the Greenway beyond, adding a sunken garden off Cambridge Street to connect to T lines below.

Studio Luz Architects with C2 Studio Landscape Architects introduce new uses — a hotel on top, stores and cafés in the base, and a water-filled plaza that can be used for year-round recreation. Over,under adds an extensive network of canopies, an enclosure over the interior courtyard, and new glass-wrapped retail space on Congress Street and removes the cascading stairs inside to open up the interior.

Pinkcomma is a labor of love — an extension of Over,under’s multi-disciplinary approach to design that directors Mark Pasnik and Chris Grimley run out of the front of their studio. What makes their show work is the strong point of view and the conviction that architecture, urbanism, and design deserve to be explored in depth.

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    Two new exhibits take design — the familiar background of our daily lives — and give it immediacy in a gallery setting.

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