Book Review – Guides to Boston Architecture

Itching to learn more about a specific building in Roxbury, I reached for the most recently published AIA Guide to Boston Architecture among my books only to find out that Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain had been almost excluded from the guide. As a self proclaimed bibliophile, I freaked out at the sight of a book titled “AIA Guide to Boston Architecture” yet fails to be inclusive of all the neighborhoods in Boston.  Are Roxbury, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain not considered part of Boston? The last time I looked at a recent map of Boston, these neighborhoods were part of it and they were also rich in architectural treasures.

Of course, there is always an alternative to everything in life. The Society of Architectural Historians published its Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston guidebook, the latest in the Buildings of the United States series. The guide has the most up to date research conducted by scholars on the architecture of Boston and its surroundings. This guide is inclusive of every neighborhood and even strives to highlight buildings designed by “minority” architects.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not by any means condemning the use of the AIA Guide to Boston Architecture. It is a great book although somewhat limited in buildings, it has great photography and its size makes it easy to carry around Boston unlike the SAH guide which is enormous and makes a great addition to a library as a reference book.

Memories of Modernism

Christian Science Monitor Plaza and Fountain, photo taken by John Michael Garcia.

Looking back to my years growing up in the Dominican Republic, I can vividly recall the memories of the sights, sounds and smells that shaped me as a child.  As young as I was when I left my country to join my parents in the United States, the power of the places I experienced have molded me into a passionate advocate for the preservation of history and architecture.

My first few years living in this country were extremely difficult. Everything felt strange, from the language and culture to the weather and food.  However, with time, I managed not only to adapt to this new land, but also keep my childhood memories alive. Growing up in Boston allowed me to witness firsthand many changes that were taking place in the city, all leaving a powerful impression on me.

One of my first experiences interacting with architecture in the city occurred on a field trip as a student at the Hurley Elementary School in the South End.  On our way back to school from the Mapparium located inside the Mary Baker Eddy Library; founder of Christian Science, my classmates and I strolled around the iconic modernist space and jumped into the fountain to cool off from the scorching summer sun.

That was my introduction to Modernism. I have never been able to forget how emotionally intense and powerful this experience was.  One, it happened just a few months after leaving the little rural town I was born in and two, I had never seen an enormous pool nor a fountain where kids ran around and played in. The moment was magical, so magical and powerful I often see myself reflected in the lives of the kids who play in this space today.

According to Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place, “[memory] is the key to the power of historic places to help citizens define their public pasts: places trigger memories for insiders who have shared a common past, and at the same time places often can represent shared pasts to outsiders who might be interested in knowing about them in the present” (46). Places have the ability to evoke visual and social memory and the Christian Science Center Complex along with its reflection pool and fountain has not only formulated my understanding and appreciation for Modern architecture today, but was my first introduction to the power of modernism and the role it plays in our lives (of course, this statement I only realized a few years ago while studying art and architectural history in college).

Photo taken by John Michael Garcia

The Plaza is truly one of Boston’s grandest spaces and the emotional attachment I feel is also felt by many friends and colleagues. When hearing of the possible fate of the Plaza, a friend of mine also traveled down memory lane to the days when he was a child playing in the fountain.  I sensed the beginning of an emotional void as he perhaps contemplated on the future of this site, a future which everyday seems more uncertain to me and hundreds of people. Designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark will assure that memories are kept alive for many generations of Bostonians whose lives have been touched by this Complex.

Memories last a lifetime.  Not designating the plaza as a Boston Landmark is an opportunity to shatter the dreams and memories of those who have experience the magic of the reflection pool, the fountain and its buildings.

The Lantern Festival

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Forest Hills Cemetery was founded in 1848 as a rural picturesque cemetery. Every summer in July, the cemetery organizes a lantern festival inspired by eastern Asian Buddhist rituals. This year the weather was perfect for a night of honoring, remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have left this world. I love events like these because they bring people from all walks of life together in a beautiful setting.

For more information on Forest Hills Cemetery, click here.

For more information on the Forest Hills Educational Trust, click here.


Trusting Modernism

20th century Modern buildings are not exactly what people think of when they think of New England, yet amidst its colonial architecture, the landscape of New England is dotted with spectacular architectural examples of regional Modernism. On Wednesday June 30, 2010, architects, preservationists, landscape and architectural historians, students and modernism enthusiasts convened at Paul Rudolph’s addition to the First Church in Boston’s Back Bay to engage in conversations focusing on Modernism in Greater Boston. Trust Modern, an initiative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Modernism + Recent Past Program, selected  the City of Boston as one of four cities to be part of the Modern Module Program aimed at increasing public support for and engaging in discussions focused on the study and protection of America’s modern architectural resources.

 According to Susan MacDonald of The Getty Conservation Institute and a panelist at the Boston Modern: The Spirit of Reinvention module “modernism tells the story of change, a story with the goal of creating a better world with equal access to healthcare and education.”  Selling the story of modernism has proven to be one of the biggest challenges facing preservationists and architectural historians today, a challenge that becomes more difficult as more and more Modern buildings and landscapes fall to the wrecking ball. Engaging in conversations like the one at the modern module is key to taking a proactive role in preserving modernism.

The city has taken a proactive step in the preservation of modern architecture. The Boston Landmarks Commission has been conducting an inventory of 20th century buildings and local preservation organizations have been leading tours of modern buildings in Downtown further introducing modernism to the general public.

Boston is home to some mighty and heroic modern buildings which speak to the legacy of notable architects like Walter Gropius, Eero Saarinen, Jose Luis Sert, Le Corbusier, Eleanor Raymond and many others who have all left their mark on this grand city. The opportunity for young people to become more involved in the preservation of modern architecture is wide open and ready to be explored in depth!  

The module on Boston’s modernist architecture proved to be intellectually stimulating thought provoking and inspiring. With over 300 attendees, my hope is that each one of us present on Wednesday night will in turn educate others on the value and significance of the city’s modern architectural resources before it’s too late to save our recent past.