shipping up to boston…

September 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Our annual site visit/field trip for Comprehensive Design is well and truly underway with about 90 studenti spending the weekend documenting their respective sites and discovering, to their great disappointment, that Sam Adams is actually brewed in Pittsburgh.  (this last fact does not stop them from doing the “Boston Brewery” tour…)  All of them are finding out how challenging it’s going to be to put a 1200 seat jazz performance theatre with accompanying lobbies, backstage areas, etc., on a tight site with heavy historic baggage…

Boston has been an important place for us, because it represents an entirely different scale and urban sense than our midwestern-raised students are used to.  We’ve scattered around the big dig and found a total of something like five sites this year, all of which present issues you couldn’t find in Des Moines or Minneapolis.  In particular, my studio has picked two sites that show off just how tricky a city like Boston can be.  One of them is a large pier off of Atlantic Avenue in the North End, the other is right downtown, where the James Hook lobster roll shack has been for something like 70 years (more on this one after our official visit today…it’s a doozy).

We’ve always thought that Comprehensive should be, well, comprehensive, and while some programs focus on getting a complete set of construction drawings out of the project, we’re more interested in having students grapple with all aspects of large building technology in a complicated urban milieu.  Montreal served our purposes well for about five years, and Boston is getting up there as well–this might be our last trip here, mostly because the faculty are getting antsy for a new context.
This year we got our act together and got a group of about 40 students in to Symphony Hall–on opening weekend.  Our program scenario is that the BSO is opening a downtown satellite to focus on more contemporary music (unlikely?  sure, but…), so to see the Mother Ship seemed important.  The staff and tour volunteers there could not have been more helpful and welcoming, despite the chaos of musicians arriving, tuning up backstage, and shuffling their instruments back and forth.  This part, actually, was great to see, since it emphasized just how important all that circulation stuff can be when you’re trying to get a set of kettle drums up a freight elevator.  And the bassist who followed us around with a bit of a soundtrack was much appreciated, too.

Of course, it’s also important to get a sense for Boston’s wider cultural context, so last night we did the honorable thing and introduced a not-unenthusiastic group to the greatest urban space on the planet:

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