This is the eighteenth in a series of guest posts written by some of my favorite bloggers. To understand what this is about, you can read this post: http://bit.ly/90Sss3
This one in particular was written by the talented Anulfo Baez. Architectural history and preservation are his passions and he tries to explore these fields as much as he can through his interactions and experiences with the city and its surroundings. He has a B.S in Community Planning from the University of New Hampshire with minors in Architectural Studies and Latin American Studies. He also has a background in art and architectural history from Boston University and has been involved in the field of preservation for a few years now. Aside from currently serving a three year term on the Board of Directors for the New England Chapter, Society of Architectural Historians, he is a member of the Society of Architectural Historians (national organization), the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University and the Decorative Arts Trust. He may also be found on Twitter @EvolvingCritic .
To fit together, to join or be in agreement or concord with one another is one definition of harmony. Steen Eiler Rasmussen in Experiencing Architecture refers to architecture as “frozen music,” because it often employs the simple dimensions, scale and proportion that are found in music harmonies. When most of us hear the word harmony, we think of music, and while we hear the harmonies in music, we can only experience them in architecture.
In exploring the concept of harmony for this series, I’ve searched for its meanings in a square, specifically Copley Square in Boston. Every city or town on earth as at least an open square, usually surrounded by buildings or streets and often paved or landscaped. There are some squares that are successful and others that are not. Copley Square is an urban planning success in Boston.
The history and evolution of Copley Square is interesting. The square was not always known as Copley Square, but as “Arts Square.” It was once bounded on its southern side by Sturgis and Brigham’s glorious and exuberant Museum of Fine Arts, which in its context represented culture in America. On its western side sits McKim, Mead & White’s Boston Public Library, which represented knowledge and learning. On its eastern side, H.H. Richardson’s Trinity Church represented one of the finest embodiments of the spiritual in the country. Copley Square was not only regarded as a significant contribution to urban planning, but also because everything a society needed, in order to grow and prosper could be found at Copley. It had the arts, education and spirituality.
Through the years, Copley Square has gone through many transformations, shaping it as we experience it today. It was first a triangle that was developed into a square starting in the 1870’s and revitalized in the 1980’s -90’s. Although the Museum of Fine Arts was demolished shortly after being constructed on the site, it was immediately replaced in 1910 by Blackall and Hardenberg’s Italian Renaissance Revival Copley Plaza Hotel (Blackall was a local architect known for his grandiose theatre designs and Henry Hardenberg was architect of the Dakota Apartments in New York City). Its northern side was home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before it moved to Cambridge, and the northwestern corner is currently occupied by Cummings and Sears’ Ruskinian Gothic New Old South Church.
The architects that produced the extraordinary collection of buildings on Copley Square seem to have been in agreement with one another. Some of these architects knew each and of each other, and Stanford White even apprenticed at H.H. Richardson’s office. The scale, proportion and details of the buildings on Copley Square are in perfect harmony with each other and their surroundings. Together they compose one of the most delightful symphonies ever created (at least in the city of Boston).
I.M Pei and Philip Johnson introduced several modern and postmodern “notes” to Copley Square, adding more harmonies to the already pleasing symphony that existed. Johnson’s Palladian inspired 500 Boylston Street building pays homage to Richardson’s Trinity Church in many ways, in particular, its use of granite to mirror the polychrome stonework at Trinity. I.M. Pei’s John Hancock Tower at 60 stories tall is the tallest building in New England and as problematic as it has been for many critics, Pei’s design is nothing short of genius. The Hancock Tower acts as a unifying element in the plaza bringing together in its reflective surfaces all the architectural masterpieces of Copley Square. The architecture of the Hancock tower further emphasizes that the old and new can coexist in a harmonious setting.
So what makes Copley Square so harmonious? I think it has to do with the rhythms caused in each of the buildings’ facades that heightens the energy and vitality of this urban hotspot. The repetition of architectural elements like arches, colorful local stone as well as textures in the form of rustication adds dynamism and excitement to the masterpieces at Copley Square. The simple dimensions, scale and proportion (scholars have concluded that Trinity Church is designed using the golden ratio or the golden mean) of all these landmarks project a welcoming feeling across the square, making it the central gathering spot for hundreds of people on a daily basis. The thought of introducing a Palladian arch blown up to a ridiculous proportion and a glass skyscraper which makes no historical references besides reflecting, well, historic structures, may have seemed daunting and ridiculous to people. These two buildings, along with the lesser known modern introductions on Copley Square’s northern side proved that harmony could still be experienced as long as the history of a square or a building’s surrounding is respected and honored.