June 2010 The Evolving Critic

The Cochituate Standpipe, built in 1869

The more I explore Roxbury, the more I fall in love with it. Its colorful history is reflected in its rich architectural heritage, from the Georgian Shirley-Eustis House to the Heroic Modernism of Madison Park High School to the recently constructed Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the landscape of Roxbury could be read as a survey in New England architecture and planning. Roxbury, like Jamaica Plain and surrounding neighborhoods was once a streetcar suburb of Boston.

Cooper Community Garden with Tour Attendees

Sam Bass Warner, Jr. in Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 traces the development patterns of the two-mile radius city that was once Boston, to the suburban metropolis that we experience today. The development patterns, the arrangements of streets and buildings throughout Boston’s streetcar suburbs are a reflection of the nineteenth arrival of the street railway and people’s aspirations of home and land ownership (Sam Bass Warner, Jr. Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press and the M.I.T Press), 1962) 15).

In the nineteenth century, the idea of living surrounded by nature and open space drove the middle class to escape the crowded city and purchase land in places like Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and in other surrounding cities and towns like Brookline and Cambridge (14). On Saturday June 25th, I attended a tour co-sponsored by Discover Roxbury and Common Boston of the gardens of Highland Park, Roxbury. This opportunity allowed me to experience the urban gardens created by neighborhood residents and also pay close attention to development patterns within Highland Park (a theme I had explored in depth in a Boston Architecture course at Boston University).

Cooper Community Garden with Attendees

Highland Park is an incredibly culturally diverse neighborhood in Roxbury and its gardens embody the resilience, passion and collaborative nature of its residents. As one resident of Highland Park noted in her welcoming statement to the group, the gardens act as a forum in which real contact can be made and dialogues rich in multicultural, ethnic and racial points of view are nurtured and fostered.

Fostering and nurturing enriching dialogues is at the core of preserving the character and history of Highland Park. The gardens were all stunningly beautiful and the gardeners were highly enthusiastic and welcoming. Their passion and determination is not only reflected in their gardens, but in the fabric of the neighborhood as well. These gardens not only act as a forum in which dialogues rich in multiculturalism are exchanged, but are also avenues for educating community members and residents of Boston on pursuing a sustainable way of life.

If you would like to explore more of the gardens of Roxbury, Discover Roxbury will be leading a trolley tour of the Historic Moreland Street District and Mission Hill on July 10th from 10:00am-12:30pm. For ticket information click here.

Garden in Highland Park


The Carpenters Center, Home of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters is the latest building in Boston to be praised by critics, architects and residents alike for its design sensitivity and carefully thought out details. The Carpenters Center building has once again placed Dorchester on the architectural map of Boston! The craftmanship of the building has been characterized as exquisite and nothing short of the fine work executed by those affiliated with the NERCC.

Designed by ADD Inc, the building opened in March of 2010. For more on this building, check out their blog

Rendering by ADD Inc. of Boston, the architect on the project taken from http://www.bostonglobe.com, May 29, 2009

The Glass House, Philip Johnson. Completed in 1949.

Recently, the Guggenheim Museum in New York City organized an exhibition titled “Contemplating the Void: Interventions in the Guggenheim Museum” which exhibited the works of nearly two hundred invited artists, architects, and designers to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Modernist masterpiece. Most importantly, these artists were celebrating the void which has influenced countless of site specific art installations at the Guggenheim.

Like the artists, architects and designers who contemplated the void at the Guggenheim, a year ago I boarded a bus from Boston to Stamford, CT where I would catch a train to New Canaan, CT to contemplate  one of the most important icons of Modern architecture: the Philip Johnson Glass House.  After the long and exhausting bus ride (which was late to Stamford by the way), I missed my train to New Canaan and with less than 40 minutes until the beginning of my two hour tour of the House, I hopped on a 30 minute taxi ride to New Canaan (the next train to New Canaan did not leave until 2:45PM and my tour was scheduled for 2:00PM). I made it to the visitor center in downtown New Canaan with just ten minutes to spare! Phew! What a relief!

The Painting Gallery, completed in 1965.

Visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House proved to be an exhilarating experience in my exploration of Modern architecture. The tour was well organized and the guide was very knowledgeable on modernism, in particular on Modern Art as she was an artist herself.  At a cost of $45 for a two hour tour with photography allowed, I not only got to see the Glass House, but Johnson’s other architectural experiments in the 47 acre property surrounding the house. One of my favorites was the Painting Gallery which recalls the Treasury of Atreus (Mycenae) in its entrance, but nothing quite like it in the interior (judging from what the interior of the Treasury of Atreus looks like today as it may have been completely different around 1250BCE when it was constructed). Its soft and “sexy” interior and floor plan are visually stunning in contrast to the fortress like exterior of the Gallery.

Inside the Painting Gallery. Works by Frank Stella.

The connection between this blog on Boston, the Glass House in New Canaan and Philip Johnson is that Johnson had attended Harvard University graduating with a Bachelor’s in Architecture in 1943. While a student at Harvard he designed his own house now located in Cambridge, MA and his presence as an architect in the city of Boston is seen in the addition to the Boston Public Library and at 500 Boylston Street (the Post-Modern Palladian inspired skyscraper) which was featured on the television drama series Boston Legal.

As a student of life, art and architecture, a preservationist and a lover of Modern architecture, visiting the Glass House was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Being in New Canaan was all I needed to take my breath away last summer let alone visiting the Philip Johnson Glass House.

(If someone knows or has a connection to the current owners of the Johnson house in Cambridge, please let me know! I’d love to see it up close instead of climbing up the stairs of the building across from it to get a peek).

The Lake Pavillion completed in 1962.


Venustas: vĕnustas , ātis, f. 1. Venus, I.loveliness, comeliness, charm, grace, beauty, elegance, attractiveness, etc. (syn.: pulchritudo, formositas).

In defining the qualities of good architecture, the Roman architect Vitruvius believed that  firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty) in a building were its most important qualities. It comes as no secret that the name for this blog was in part inspired by venustas, the quality of beauty, charm, elegance and attractiveness.

Exploring the beauty of Boston and its surrounding communities continues to be the focus of this blog. I hope you enjoy the following images of some buildings in Boston and its surrounding communities which I find to be inspiring and beautiful (another building which takes my breath away every single time is Trinity Church, I hope everyone knows what this building looks like).

The Woburn Public Library, taken by John Michael Garcia.

The Woburn Public Library, Woburn, MA. Taken by John Michael Garcia.Saarinen’s Kresge Chapel, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyThe Boston Public Library by McKim, Mead and White

This year, Historic New England (formerly known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities), celebrates its Centennial as the oldest preservation organization in the United States. To celebrate this landmark achievement, the organization opened the doors to all of their 36 historic properties for FREE this past Saturday.

Of course, who in their right mind would let this opportunity go by and not visit at least one of their properties? I visited the Pierce House in Dorchester, a First Period house and one of the last surviving examples of seventeenth-century architecture in the city of Boston.  The house was built in 1683 and was once part of a 20 acre farm in Dorchester which none of it remains today, but its rich history and relationship to the land have been recorded in its architecture.

Today, the house is primarily used for school groups, but it is open to the public on selected dates. If you’re in the neighborhood on July 22, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. and October 9, 1:00 – 4:00 p.m., consider taking a tour of the Pierce House and learn more about this important 17th Century gem in Boston.