Mette Aamodt AIA
aamodt / plumb architects
Michael Cannizzo AIA
Boston Redevelopment Authority
Philip J. Casey, Jr., AIA
David Lee FAIA
Stull and Lee
Klopfer Martin Design Group
Mary Skelton Roberts
Submitted by Gretchen Von Grossman, MBTA, 2014 jury chair
It was my pleasure and privilege to collaborate with nine distinguished professionals to determine the next most beautiful building in Boston. Each juror views the built world from their own perspective, and each lens contributed to a robust, thorough deliberation and a thoughtful selection of this year’s Harleston Parker Medal recipient.
The jury this year was composed of a diverse group of architects, engineers, landscape architects, grant makers, clients, and television producers.
In early discussions and throughout the deliberations, jurors considered various aspects of the idea of beauty: as the graceful function of a building, with technological sophistication and service to a broad range of users; as a celebration of a small footprint on the earth’s natural resources; with a certain universality and a visual aesthetic common to the eyes of many beholders; defined by a space and light that lends a tingle and a gasp; with a timelessness that speaks not just to today but tomorrow as well. This year’s discussion also weighed the importance of inclusivity—of designers, of access by widely ranging users, of cultural references.
Over the course of three meetings in the spring and early summer, the jurors weighed the 130+ candidates submitted this year and in previous years. They narrowed the options to a short list of finalist sites that we would visit. In a twist, the jurors included a fifth option and stop on our tour beyond the usual short list of four.
On September 10th, 2014, the jury visited each site, which included a tour narrated by the architect and client representative. Conversation revolved around technology and materials, connections to the context, light and space, design strategies tailored to the users, their culture, and ownership of the spaces created. The jurors were deeply impressed with each of the five structures visited. A dinnertime deliberation led into the evening, with much push and pull in the discussion and all candidates carried as viable winners until close to the end.
The jury recommends, for its exceptional beauty and service to art, the MFA Art of the Americas Wing, designed by Foster + Partners with CBT, for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as the recipient of the 2014 Harleston Parker Medal.
The new grand hall and gallery wing are an outstanding complement to the original Museum building, with the new elements taking on their own strikingly modern identity while maintaining strong visual integration. The expansion implements a significant portion of an overall master plan that included reorganization and enhancement of the original, with accessibility and reintroduction of intuitive orientation.
The minimalist expression not only allows the focus to be on the art, but goes beyond that to highlight it. The forms of the architecture are strong and clean; each layer of closer examination offers new insights, without yielding a flawed move at any scale of detail–a tribute not only to design but to craftsmanship and execution. Beauty was carried through every space, every scale, every detail. There is timelessness to the courtyard space, and it transforms and opens the existing museum to light, nature, and people. With this reconfiguration, the MFA crosses the threshold and becomes a world-class museum.
Overall the jurors examined notions of space versus material architecture; physical reaction to profound beauty; the whole versus the parts; timelessness; the beauty of function versus aesthetic beauty. The responsibility of the decision weighed on all participants, with the notion that this choice sends a message regarding what ought to be awarded, what the future of architecture ought to be. All of the finalists are exceptional and beautiful structures and places.
The jurors and I extend our gratitude for the privilege to serve on this jury, and the kind hospitality shown us by Mary Fichtner, Sara Garber, and Eric White. Congratulations to not only the finalists but the Boston architectural community for the many fine nominees considered, and the dedication to outstanding design in our midst.
The jury reached its decision following a wide-ranging discussion of the finalists and a continued evaluation of the facets of beauty in architecture:
Boston Harbor Island Pavilion, designed by Utile for Boston Harbor Island Alliance and the National Park Service
This “non-building” building is a technological and sculptural achievement, enhancing the Harbor Walk and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. It is also intimately linked with both the natural world and the history and progress of surrounding city neighborhoods. Those connections–roof shapes reminiscent of natural and maritime forms; energy independence and water conservation structures; building and landscaping working together to imply rooms; views and material in formal nods to the North End, the Markets, and Harbor Walk–are enhanced by the design story and somewhat less immediately understood by passers-by. The roof structure includes handsome, evocative forms, though jurors wondered about the possibilities for further lightness and simplicity. This smart, engaging piece of contemporary art/architecture is open to everyone and easy to access at all times, a quality that is part of its success.
Boston Public Library, East Boston Branch, designed by William Rawn Associates, Architects for Boston Public Library
A second community-centric space made the short list this year, also notable for its open welcome to all users. The East Boston Branch of the BPL turns the traditional library inside out, making it more of a place for active engagement than quiet study. Individual spaces are tailored for appropriation for different uses by a variety of users–the young, teens, adults in pursuit of research and recreation–yet are all under the same flowing, wavy, warm-wooden-skinned tent. The building is focused on a warmly lit, pedestalled south-facing view of community gardens, parks, and a stunning city skyline that seems close enough to touch. A “front porch” supplies an outdoor reading room and a sense of home. Details set within the outdoor pavement–capitols of countries with populations in the neighborhood–call out the many facets of the cultures represented among the library’s users. In weighing the balance of the highly successful central space with the building’s street presence and designed land, the jurors found the latter elements to be lesser contributors to the success of the whole.
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Addition, designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop with Stantec for Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
In its third turn as a Medal finalist, this technologically-advanced machine of glass and light combines entry, gallery, reading room, music box, and offices. The Gardner addition includes extraordinary detailing and multiple physical experiences in its many spaces. Especially notable is the compressed, natural space leading to the entry of the vast, dark, original museum. Aspects of the circulation, the detailing, the massing, and the spatial connections were found by the jurors to be too dense. They looked for a sense of interaction with the original museum and the street, rather than a complete statement of “other.” Instead, they felt the massing distracts from the original building.
Temple Beth Elohim, designed by William Rawn Associates, Architects for Temple Beth Elohim
The Temple has twice been a finalist for the Medal. Rarely does a building so elegantly convey such a strong sense of representation and service to its community of users. Its spaces are warm and inviting, and connected to a natural world outdoors with light and views. Its concept is easily absorbed at every step of procession through zones and spaces. The entry sequence–gateway, courtyard, entry, sanctuary—is breathtaking. Jurors discussed how moving between the sanctuary to spaces beyond–to the class and community room wing, to the landscapes beyond the building/courtyard core—created a sense that we were entering a different building, reducing the sense of a cohesive whole.