Cambridge

If being in Boston felt familiar, Cambridge and Somerville felt much more so.  I was at Harvard for four years, and then spent two years living in Somerville while I worked for an architecture firm in Boston.  In retrospect, I spent the vast majority of my college years on campus, as it was intense and time-consuming, venturing into Boston for frequent field trips and museum visits related to my major in art history.  After college I spent a lot more time wandering around Boston, due to more free time, being in Boston every day anyway, and living in a crummy apartment in Somerville that encouraged one to get out more.

If Boston seems to change less than other places, Cambridge is even more extreme.  Returning alums bemoan the loss of old standbys like Cronins or Elsie’s, but there were certainly more than enough nostalgia-triggers around to drive Greta crazy, as she had to listen to stories in front of each (although I restrained myself from breaking into Illegitimum non Carborundum).  Random highlights follow:

Harvard Square struck me as much the same, thought perhaps more sedate.  Certainly the pedestrians are less militant than they were.  DSCF3550

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While Joyce Chen’s was arguably one of the first restaurants to introduce authentic Chinese food to America, Yenching will always be remembered as the harbinger of the Great Szechuan Revolution in Cambridge, the place which inspired our subsequent lifelong predilection for excellent Chinese food.

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Pinocchio’s pizza is still going strong, although it now has pictures of Mark Zuckerberg prominently displayed.  I had forgotten how much Boston pizza differs from New York – not least in that it is made by Greeks – but I’ll leave the review of it to Greta.  But perhaps the most inexplicable survivor was:DSCF3525
Charles Kitchen, purveyor of thoroughly mediocre double cheeseburger specials and cheap beer.  I know that the culinary proclivities of undergraduates probably haven’t changed that much, but I was still surprised that it hadn’t been displaced by a higher-end establishment, until a local informant told me that it is owned by the Mafia and probably fills some other role in the underground economy.

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Harvard Yard is of course the same, except for the now huge crowds of international tourists and the chairs scattered around.  Crowd control has become an issue, and there are signs everywhere telling you not to enter the buildings or bug the students.  But once you get out of the Old Yard, the Tercentenary Theatre and the small courts are still relatively sedate.DSCF3409

Massachusetts Hall, the oldest survivor on campus, from 1720.

Massachusetts Hall, the oldest academic building on campus, from 1720.

The President's House

The President’s House

The window in Emerson, from which I gazed during Soc Stud 10 lectures on Marx (when I was a Soc Stud major before switching), and the tree I gazed upon.

The window in Emerson, from which I gazed during Soc Stud 10 lectures on Marx (when I was a Soc Stud major before switching), and the tree I gazed upon.

Architecturally, we went by old favorites to photograph them, as I just hadn’t taken enough slides back in the pre-digital days.

the Lampoon and Adams House

the Lampoon and Adams House

the alley by Lowell House. An interesting development has been the replacement of the Fly Club garden by a new building for Hillel.

the alley by Lowell House. An interesting development has been the replacement of the Fly Club garden by a new building for Hillel.

the view of Mem Hall from the GSD library, my preferred reading and late-afternoon dozing spot.

the view of Mem Hall from the GSD library, my preferred reading and late-afternoon dozing spot.  The tower has been reconstructed, and it is now used as the freshman dining hall, after the desecration of the Freshman Union 20 years ago.

Becoming an architect has given me a new appreciation for buildings I didn’t particularly like as a student.  I still understand their shortcomings as seen by laypeople, but as an architect I am bound to defend their architectonic qualities.  First there is Sert:

the Science Center

the Science Center

Peabody Terrace, which I no longer feel the desire to bombard with paint balloons.

Peabody Terrace, which I no longer feel the desire to bombard with paint balloons.

the Holyoke Street side of Holyoke Center, which is extremely nuanced in how it addresses its different orientations.

the Holyoke Street side of Holyoke Center, which is extremely nuanced in how it addresses its different orientations.

and of course Corbu’s Carpenter Center, which I now appreciate much more, and find its stand-off with Piano’s new museum quite entertaining (more on this to come).
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Perhaps the most striking place was the pedestrian alley and courtyard at 44 Brattle Street, (behind the Design Research building designed by Ben Thompson).  The buildings were by Sert, Earl Flansburgh and TAC, who all had offices there, and collaborated on the design of the passage to the interior of the block.  I have never seen another pedestrian passage in this country that is this successful – the materials, the scale, the spatial sequence – all have combined to create a vibrant, pleasant and well-used alley.  It has become a commonplace that modernist object buildings ignored the context and destroyed the city;  it is instructive to see spaces like this and understand how the best modernist architects were highly sensitive to these issues.DSCF3530DSCF3533 DSCF3534

At the end of the day, Greta was more taken with Cambridge than she had thought she would be, and immediately fell into the role of serious author writing in a crowded cafe.
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2 thoughts on “Cambridge

  1. roy pertchik

    With my apologies for the geeky question, do you you use a tilt and shift lens, or stretch to adjust perspective in Photoshop?

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  2. Peter Keyes

    Photoshop! I used to have a tilt/shift in the film days, but I sold it ten years ago. Now I turn the frame vertically, shoot it as close to horizontal as I can, leave some room for fudging, do the lens correction and then crop.

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