Boston has a special place when it comes to the history of modern urban spaces in the United States. It has one of the worst of such spaces — the plaza in front of City Hall — and one of the best, the plaza of the Christian Science Center. Anyone who thinks that the latter can be “improved” is sorely mistaken. Yes, we like to have plazas filled with people and junked up with concession stands, but this place should not be retrofitted because of our penchant for “lively” spaces. The people who love this plaza and who have used it over the years appreciate its quietude as well as the generosity of its scale. It is pre-eminent in the sadly small list of successful public spaces in the United States. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Associate Dean, School of Architecture and Planning, MIT
The Christian Science Center is widely acknowledged as a compelling urban work of art. Its dynamic yet geometrically harmonious architectural forms frame a plaza of unparalleled dignity and repose, in itself a work of great distinction. Most important of all, the reflecting pool defines this context, elevating the terrestrial environment to a higher and more abstract plane of existence. The perfection of a pure and precise sheet of water of this scale, detached from the ground plane and seemingly independent of any container, is unique and powerfully affecting. Moreover, the volume of water contained in the basin is sufficient to allow the surface to display actions characteristic of a body of water in its natural state. When calm, the pool incorporates the sky as a tangible fourth dimension; when ruffled into wavelets it resonates of a profound depth. Other great reflecting pools — the Lincoln Memorial, the Taj Mahal, the Alhambra — are simply depressions in the pedestrian level; they lack the purity and the abstract integrity of the Christian Science pool. No one, however, would advocate the dilution of their noble defining qualities.
Understanding the unique exaltation of water as a primal element at the core of the Christian Science Center design, and preserving the means by which this has been achieved, is fundamental to any consideration of change. Those which have been proposed will almost certainly destroy the essence of this remarkable work.
Frederick A. Stahl, Faia
Kudos on a superb editorial on the Christian Science Center reflecting pool. The sales pitch to commit what you rightly call an act of “cultural vandalism” will be to turn it into a dumbed-down, so-called user-friendly urban picnic ground.
As if serenity and peace and quiet and a place to walk and think and bask in beauty, which I do there all the time, was not as necessary a need in the city as ice skating and outdoor dining and carousels, for all of which we have Boston Common. The Christian Science Center is more like the Public Garden, and should remain a peaceful and beautiful inner-city oasis.
There’s nothing wrong at all with some new sorrounding towers — the area needs greater high-rise density of the sort that makes cities exciting — but the noble heroic architecture, both old and new, and the serene 600-foot pool that ties it all together, should be protected, not vandalized.