Scale Shift

One of the best places to understand specific design operations for a nimble urbanism is where churches – and their associated appendages (rectories and the like) – meet the historic residential fabric in Boston. In this example, on lower Mt. Vernon Street in Beacon Hill, the apsidal end of the Advent Church (that faces Brimmer Street) meets the end of a row of townhouses. In this case, the large scale of the apse is balanced by the almost-miniature scale of the girdle-like ambulatory at its base. This shift to a dollhouse scale means that the abutting townhouse is not overwhelmed by the overall mass of the church. Most satisfying is the negative space at the intersection – like something out of Scott Cohen’s studios at the GSD. Note the tiny bathroom window deep in the crotch – an amplified version of the scale-inversions that propel the entire composition.



Notes from Charlestown: Touchdown!


Back in April, I wrote about the ARRA-funded North Bank Bridge – a 700-ft long, 12-ft wide steel sinusoidal truss ped/bike bridge linking Cambridge to Charlestown. At that time, all that were visible were a few disconnected supports sticking out of the river and ground, making it difficult to discern how the bridge would take shape.  But take shape it has! Over the summer, the bridge has gradually appeared, a roller coaster-inspired form that very carefully negotiates the infrastructure and existing buildings clustered around North Point.  Snaking its way across Miller’s River, the bridge recently touched down on Boston soil.

I typically see the bridge during exploratory bike rides on the weekends or evenings, but yesterday morning I decided to stop by en route to work. As luck would have it, the crew was hard at work on the associated landscape improvements (a not insignificant part of the project). There I met Arthur, a self-professed “PR guy” and the supervisor in charge. Distracting him with my bike, I made inquiries about when the bridge might open to the general public. “They’re saying Maaahrch,” Arthur told me. Good news for those seeking alternative ways to make a Cambridge-Boston crossing.

The timing might also be right for the latest map-based offering from Google, previewed in today’s New York Times.  Not unlike street view, Google has developed a “Trike, a panoramic camera system with nine lenses mounted on an oversize tricycle. The company, which already offers 360-degree street-level views of New York City and other cities, has turned its attention to parks, as well as other locations inaccessible by car. The Trike has been wheeling through hard-to-reach places across the globe, mapping them and then offering online Street View tours on Google Maps that let the would-be parkgoer mouse-click along a path.”

While nice to know the bridge might be open for virtual rides, I’m eager to test it out in person.

– Corey



Students in my University of Toronto housing studio are currently building ¼” scale models of their housing types to verify the spatial characteristics of their proposals.  Because all of the schemes are based on a high density four-story urbanism, it is especially important to understand the scale of courtyards, lightwells, and the spaces between buildings. In addition, the students are testing site lines through and between units. Thanks to Rob Wright and Ivan Saleff, my on-the-ground co-instructors, for suggesting this approach.


Second Means of Egress

As Elizabeth Christoforetti and I have learned teaching housing studios in two cities (Boston and Toronto), attitudes about the code requirement for two means of egress has become a litmus test for the relative embrace of pragmatic constraints (or not) in design theory and pedagogy.  The Ontario College of Art and Design’s jaunty red diagonal strut – actually the second means of egress of the floating new wing – proves that even the most outré designers can leverage pesky code requirements within their overall design agenda.