It was first light when the bus trundled out of the station and I was sulking big time. We were leaving New York and after five days of architectural intoxication and I was convinced no other city could compare – disappointment was surely inevitable. Boston was the last leg of our two month trip up the East Coast of the United States and I was tired of living on $1 Macdonald’s coffees and Chipotle burritos. Plus, with snow in the forecast, I was dubious about how my ‘thermals’ were going to fare in a notorious Massachusetts’ winter. Five hours later, wearing half the contents of my backpack I begrudgingly waddled out of the terminal and we headed off in search of some food to stave off my imminent transition from grumpy to hangry.
A couple of twists and turns later we found ourselves walking down the famed shopping strip of Newbury Street. The elegant character of the street is defined by the four-storey terrace style apartments of red brick, fronted by charming little gardens and split-level stairs inviting you into an art gallery below or a boutique above. The wide pavements, lined with an avenue of trees, encourage you to stroll and linger as you admire the voguish displays in the crafted iron bay windows. As I sipped a coffee at one of the many pavement cafes, watching stylish ladies and dapper fellows perambulate by, I couldn’t help but think this was the classiest place I had ever seen.
The street terminates at the beloved Boston Common which is the oldest public park in America. It is an essential amenity in the city and plays host to cultural events throughout the year. As we wandered around the common, enjoying the leisurely atmosphere and picking snippets of history from the monuments dotted, I found myself eager to get stuck into this city. As we looped back around the park, we spotted the vaunted ‘Cheers’ pub and settled in for a drink, or two. As I savored the most delicious locally brewed apple cider I decided that Boston might just be the best city we had visited yet. Cheers, Boston.
Since Boston is one of the oldest cities in America it has experienced all the eras of development and has the collection of styles to prove it. A classical federal style office block rubs shoulders with a glass skyscraper, while art deco apartments sit adjacent to the brutalist City Hall. Despite the almost eclecticness of it all, these elements come together to create a dynamic cityscape held together by great public spaces.
As a remnant of modernist city planning, Boston had an elevated highway that ran through the city cutting off the downtown with its popular market area from the waterfront. In an aim to reconnect the city with the harbor and prioritize pedestrians the highway was tunneled and replaced with urban plazas by means of a mega infrastructure project known as the ‘Big Dig’. I remember thinking this might be a good solution for the similar condition we have it Cape Town until I found out it took 20 years and cost around 25 billion dollars!
Within the American landscape, Boston is a center for education and culture with the highest concentration of tertiary education facilities in the country. With the likes of MIT and Harvard, the greatest minds from all over the world are contributing to the social milieu of the place. This, plus its rich history, make Boston a cosmopolitan and progressive city with an energy of excitement and optimism which you can feel in the frosty air.
The architecture school at MIT has been named the best in the world three years in a row, and when you take a walk around the campus you can see why. All your “precedent studies” are sorted when you have buildings by some of the most revered architects in your backyard. Including names like Steven Holl, Frank Gehry, Alvar Aalto, Erio Saarinen, and Fumihiko Maki (to name a few) MIT has slowly been collecting works of starchitects to make a campus worthy of an architectural tour.
In a similar vein, Harvard has an impressive collection of buildings, especially in the ‘modern master’ category. Over the years the Deans of the Graduate School of Design have made their mark on the campus through both built work and commissions. There is prestige, power, and money here. You can feel it built into the walls.
Cheers to Boston!