Radical Classicism

5/1/2010 Uncategorized

To prove that we’re ecumenical when it come to urban design ideas, I point you in the direction of this recent proposal for City Hall and City Hall Plaza by Aaron Helfand, a student at the Notre Dame School of Architecture. Aaron’s professor was Duncan Stroik, a classmate of mine at the University of Virginia (we graduated together in 1984, to put some anecdotal perspective on this project).  The proposal has some merits, although the central axis  of City Hall is aligned with a relatively random bay of Center Plaza across Cambridge Street (conveniently missing from the aerial view) and the wing of City Hall facing the MBTA station pavilion is strangely unaffected by the complexities of the immediate context (Venturi taught us, even as a classicist, to have some fun with these kinds of opportunities).

More bizarre than the proposal (which is a bit too retardaire for MY taste), is David Brussat’s post on this project:  Here’s some follow-up on Aaron Helfand’s spectacular proposal to replace Boston City Hall with a city hall worthy of Boston. His ideas spring from a thesis done at Notre Dame’s School of Architecture, under the tutelage of Duncan Stroik. Helfand masterfully dissects the absurd idea that today’s City Hall Plaza and the Renaissance piazza of Siena bear some resemblence beyond the reverse affinity of direct opposites. The claim made by the Brutalist monstrosity’s architects that they took their inspiration from Siena suffers total defenestration at the hands of the recent graduate, who last week joined me for a drink after joining me as a fellow member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America. (Just by chance I happened upon his drawings the next morning in a Boston Globe online slideshow of defunct projects.)

Brussat is the architecture critic for the Providence Journal and an ardent champion of neo-traditionalism, mostly in the guise of 1920s-era American classicism (think late McKim, Mead & White). 

Thanks to Ted Szostkowski of Kallman McKinnell & Wood for alerting me to this proposal.