Sunday, September 30, 2012

Beanish Brutalism

(Note: Now with pictures!)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (last November), I took a number of pictures of City Hall. Pictures that, of course, have dissolved into the digital ether. But, when I took them, I intended to use them to corroborate City Hall’s ranking as the world’s ugliest building. Because, yes, in appearance the building is a bit drab, and especially on a rainy day it does have some extra gloom about it. But, ultimately, I would argue that it is far from a heaping of building materials and concrete, as alluded to in at least one article.1 

Why the misconception? Because the building is a beacon of brutalism. Yes, that architectural style has a name.

Of brutalism, the milieu has been called -- many times over -- an eyesore. On the other hand, a member of the World Monuments Fund explains, “We haven’t gotten far enough from that moment in history [when brutalism debuted] to appreciate all that it meant.”2 

What it comes down to is the style provokes a gut response. Put in literary terms, it’s a gut reaction where the search for a happy denouement overshadows the struggle of ascending conflict. And what is architecture if not storytelling in brick and steel (or, in this case, concrete)? As such, we have particular expectations of a building’s aesthetic -- in the same way that we have particular expectations about how a fairy tale should end. Each building that we see, in turn, tells us a little something about its architects and authors, its purpose and story.

Consider this excerpt from H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, narrated by the protagonist after he discovers ancient ruins lodged in the peaks of the Antarctic:

“It was composed mostly of prodigious blocks of dark primordial slate, schist, and sandstone – blocks in many cases as large as 4 x 6 x 8 feet – though in several places it seemed to be carved out of a solid, uneven bed rock of pre-Cambrian slate. The buildings were far from equal in size, there being innumerable honeycomb arrangements of enormous extent as well as smaller separate structures. The general shape of these things tended to be conical, pyramidal, or terraced; though there were many perfect cylinders, perfect cubes, clusters of cubes, and other rectangular forms, and a peculiar sprinkling of angled edifices whose five-pointed ground plan roughly suggested modern fortifications.”3
Lovecraft, H. P. At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror. New York: Ballantine, 2007. 46-47. Print.

Whoah. The architecture that Lovecraft describes punctuates the beats of his story. Not just pyramids, perfect ones. Cones and cylinders without flaw. Lovecraft describes the evidence such that his readers can draw only one conclusion: Intelligent pre-human beings once inhabited Antarctica (par for the course with the author). Of course none of this is historically accurate, and though Lovecraft was an author of pulp sci-fi and horror, his descriptions ring true. Architecture is drama.

Subtract the specifics on the stone used, along with the pyramids, cones, and cylinders, and readers are left with an uncanny portrait of Boston’s City Hall. Like Lovecraft’s Mountains, the City Hall structure exudes power and will – it just isn’t smashed into a gigantic mountain range in the Antarctic.

During the 1960s, brutalism was the architectural style, meaning – unlike Mountains City Hall is not ancient. Read that Wiki page again. Among architects, City Hall was loved at the time of its design. Why? Because baroque was old, classicism was old, even neo-classicism was old. The debut of a brutalist building in the Bean made City Hall a story-in-progress, an architectural style to be written about in the present tense. Fresh and modern, the use of brutalism was meant to convey that City Hall was renewed for the contemporary day, working for Boston.

Pulp novels like Mountains of Madness are not the only apt parallel. Of all things, Legos also provide us with some insight into brutalist architecture. Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, writes :

“Abstract, minimal, ‘pure’ in form and design, they [Legos] echoed the dominant midcentury aesthetic, with its emphasis on utility and human perfectability… In their limited repertoire of shapes and the absolute…Lego structures emphatically did not present – and in playing with them, you never hoped for – the appearance of reality… It was an idealization, an approximation, your best version of the thing you were trying to make.”
Chabon, Michael. Manhood for Amateurs. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. 53. Print.

For its era, Boston’s City Hall (and brutalism as a whole) reflected that same “best version” of “utility and human perfectability” in the sphere of public buildings that Legos mirrored for entertainment. Both achieved this with their modern, contemporary aesthetic. That midcentury vision, then, did not show its optimism in detail or opulence, but in its dedication to effort and industry, story and present-tense drama.

Brutalism, however, is no longer a present-tense style, which is probably why so many people’s gut reactions are so negative. But now I kinda like it.

Til next time!

1: Mason, Edward. "Boston City Hall Named World's Ugliest Building." Boston Herald. Herald Media, 15 Nov. 2008. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <>.
2:Than, Ker. "Pictures: 12 World Monuments at Risk." National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 18 Oct. 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2012. <>.
3: Lovecraft, H. P. At the Mountains of Madness and Other Tales of Terror. New York: Ballantine, 2007. 46-47. Print.
4: Chabon, Michael. Manhood for Amateurs. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009. 53. Print.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


I was walking through the Prudential Center Mall today when this amazing sight caught my eye:

Okay, so it's not much when the picture is this cropped. Let me explain.

Microsoft just opened a brand new retail location in the Pru. Clearly, this is meant to compete with the Mac-next-door (straight across Boylston if you didn't know). Also, and this is beside the point (but I'm going to make it anyway): the new store is very open-concept. So much so that if it was any closer to Wagamama and Pinkberry, you would probably be able to stand in all three locations at the same time. Which, if you think about it, is totally rad.

Back to the story!

The store is very interactive and user-friendly, including (but not limited to) multiple playable Xbox 360 consoles -- one of which was playing the new Amazing Spider-Man game. And get this: it was projected on the wall. 

Spider-Man wall-crawling on a wall. 

Alright, alright. Total nerdbust. But still, kudos to the store's designers for the placement of the games.

Til next time!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Chilling out in the City

Traffic jams, surly drivers, stubborn bicyclists, and barreling joggers. Cigarette butts, litter, goose droppings, and unrecycled recyclables. Constant construction, overheard disagreements, barking dogs, and wailing babies.

And that one darn traffic signal that never-ever (in the Taylor-Swiftiest sense) turns to walk, leaving you stranded on the curb and late to your destination!

Sometimes you just need a break.

When this is the case, Boston has your solution: take a quick visit to the Kelleher Rose Garden in the Fens. Only a five minute walk from Fenway Park, the garden is a world away in volume, activity, and atmosphere. (And, hey, I love Fenway Park!)

This is city life, after all, and at some point you're going to need some city-sponsored decompression. So take a break. Disconnect. Walk around and smell the roses for real this time.

The first, most apparent thing you'll notice here is the variety of roses. There are tons and tons (warning: exaggeration). Who knew? Well, botanists, but...psssh. Take a look:

The landscaping, too, is beautiful. The pathways through the garden are narrow, making it impossible not to take in the aroma. And around every corner there seems to be another bench indented into the hedges, keeping the experience as individual and reflective as can be in the gesellschaft of the city. 

Following the pathway out of the circular area leads you to a true Boston gem. El Desconsol occupies the far end of the garden. The statue is a sad, beautiful piece that is exceptionally human. No trip to the Museum of Fine Arts or the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is complete without taking the three (or so) minute walk to this gift from the city of Barcelona.

And if this isn't your thing, you can always try SERENITY NOW!

Til next time!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Top of the Charts

Been seeing a lot of the Bean on your television lately? I have. Thrillingly, not every movie/film/video game that takes place in a big city has to use NYC anymore. Much of this comes thanks to the TNT network, the channel single-handedly responsible for the following dramatizations of Boston: Falling Skies, Leverage, and Rizzoli & Isles.

Kudos to video game developers for using the city, too. That includes Assassin's Creed III, set in Revolutionary Boston, and (though this is still rumor) Fallout 4 -- in a major tonal shift from Assassins -- set after a nuclear apocalypse.

And while we're on the topic of pop-culture...

You know that catchy tune. You can't escape it -- odds are good you'll hear it four times an hour if you bounce between AMP 103.3, 104.1, 104.5, and KISS 108.

Not even the U.S. swim team could outrace it. Batman himself couldn't defeat it. Cookie Monster can't eat it. Jimmy Fallon loves it.

It's "Call Me, Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen.

Like it or not, it's time to recognize this song's staying power. That, and the fact that it is most definitely the song of Summer 2012.

Celebrate with the official Don't Look Down, Beantown top four Call Me, Maybes:

(4) "Batman, Maybe" gets a nod for the hilarious line "There is no bat stache."

(3) "Share It, Maybe" by Cookie Monster takes third because (a) chocolate pudding doesn't phase Cookie Monster, (b) it spoofs not only "Call Me, Maybe," but Jimmy Fallon's performances of it, as well, and (c) Cookie Monster's voice is the exact opposite of Carly Rae Jepsen's, but somehow the song still works.

(2) "Call Me, Maybe" by Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, and Carly Rae Jepsen places next-to-best for its use of toy instruments, the enthusiasm of Jimmy and the Roots, and for the actual inclusion of Carly Rae Jepsen. But mostly for its use of the kazoo, proving to parents everywhere that it has some merit as a musical instrument.

(1) And, lastly, "Call Me, Maybe" by the U.S. Olympic Swim Team takes first place. This may be a controversial decision, especially considering it is the only lip-synced rendition on the list, but you can't argue with the team's enthusiasm. Nor its incredible use of public transportation. (I cannot imagine beginning to belt this song out on a plane or bus -- and then being allowed to finish.) It has also received the most mainstream coverage. Plus, you can't argue with results. There were an awful lot of gold medals that followed this video.

Til next time!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ben Franklin Would Be Proud (So Would a Wordsmith)

Like many New Englanders, I hit up the beach this weekend. And look...kites! They are so cheery, so wavy, so in-the-breezy, so not struck by lightning, so about-to-fly-away-but-not-getting-away-with-that-today, so ready for takeoff, so ready to get-set and jet-set, so on the cusp of atmospheric elopement, so an arch of aerial enjoyment. Alright, that's just enough. Enjoy!

Til next time!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Superest of Brownstones

In all sincerity, I am digging everything about this brownstone (and, honestly, this town is full of them). Let's hit the high marks: storefront on the first floor. Check. Checkerboard window panes. Check. Roof over the front entrance. Check. Transom. Check. All brick. Check. Rounded front. Check. Pleasing proportion. Check. And old school painted ads on the side. Check.

Face it, this brownstone is the bee's knees. Hey, man, that's "flapper talk"!

Til next time!

Monday, July 16, 2012

(Not) Just Another Brick in the Wall

Wall decoration has a certain appeal to me (something you probably knew, given my recent posts on graffiti). Whether it is simple, elaborate, functional, or decorative, it's always interesting to see what is put on display when a building becomes a canvas. Have a quick look at these two examples that I particularly enjoy.

The example on the left comes from the Christian Science area along Mass Ave. You can't argue with its simplicity. The example on the right comes from the side of the newly renovated Taberna de Haro restaurant in Brookline. I haven't been, but I like its style. The (huge) homage to Singer Sargent's El Jaleo (on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, fittingly) is very appropriate to both the region and cuisine.

Til next time!

Saturday, July 14, 2012


So Google just told me that "thousands of accounts are hacked everyday." Is mine one of them? I don't know...if so, please discount any weirdness.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Mission Statement

Not too long ago (okay, it was months ago), I watched the documentary Bill Cunningham New York on Netflix. The film follows New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham as he watches the streets of New York for...well...whatever he likes. He takes pictures of all clothes trendy, distinct, personal, and expressive. Most incredibly, he does it without putting anyone down.

And that is the whole point of this post. As I walk around Boston, I see plenty of things that I like -- and I take pictures of those things. So those are the ones I'll share, taking care to withhold the lengthy criticisms, diatribes, and the like for those items that I am not so fond of. I'll leave those to the actual architects and critics. This really isn't that far off from what I do already, but it will hopefully keep me more focused. It also doesn't mean that I fancy an unfeatured building as ugly; I probably just haven't gotten to it yet. I do only have two feet and one camera, thereby limiting the amount of Bean architecture that I can share.

As I pass these pictures along to you, I'll also keep up with the blog "experience," detailing any trips, events, visits, etc. in the Bean. Yee-haw!

Some firsts:

One of the formative moments in my love of design and architecture came in 2008, when I visited York Minster Cathedral in York, England. This was my first up-close experience with detail -- the kind of detail that seems impossible. Scenes from the Bible were carved into blocks no larger than a square foot and surrounded the two main doors. And that was only the entryway! (There were still stories and stories of building above!) It was unbelievable to me that such minute detail could cover such a huge construction.

So it comes to pass that I am now a sucker for ornamentation, and I think that this building on Commonwealth (left) and the detail just outside this window of the Landmark Center (right) are fine examples from the Bean. 

Til next time!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

On Kevin Youkilis

Thunder and lightning have been crackling all around Boston for the past few days. Why? Because Red Sox Nation is not happy.

Trading Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox has been/still is a divisive decision in the Bean -- enough to elicit a collective "Nooooooo" from Youk fans across New England. There are numerous opinions being aired on the deal, but some of the most interesting thus far are these: SUPPORT and AGAINST. No matter what side you fall on (personally, I want Youkilis to remain active on the Red Sox), this decision could make for an addition to this collection of surprising Fenway events from

For more about Fenway, but from an architectural perspective, check out this awesome feature on the park's official site. It allows you to see original plans for the park and how it has changed throughout the years. Very cool. 

Til next time!

ADDED: The Curse of Youkilis, a tongue-in-cheek look at the first post-trade game the Sox played.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

More Graff

Hello All,

More graffiti for your perusal.

Reminders: (1) I am not in the business of condoning such behavior, and (2) the site only passes along the image, not any intended meaning or social context (of which I would be utterly oblivious anyways).

Til next time!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ode to Joy

Like many Bostonians, I take public transit to work on a daily basis (MBTA, please don't hike the fares!). Kenmore Square just so happens to serve as one of the Hub's transit... hubs. If you come to the Bean with the intention of taking the bus, you will find yourself underneath this canopy. Or should I say cannoli? The stop certainly resembles a cannoli shell!

Til next time!

Monday, June 11, 2012


Pop Culture Bean

Hello, all! Welcome to a new feature called Pop Culture Bean. It's all about when Beantown shows up in different media. Today's inaugural item comes from an upcoming videogame, Assassin's Creed 3.

Just to bring you up to speed, this series of videogames takes place in different cities during different historical circumstances, including Jerusalem during the Crusades and Florence, Rome, and Istanbul (nee Constantinople) during the Renaissance and just after.

If you take a quick look at the video titled "E3 2012: Boston Stealth Walkthrough" here, you will see that the third installment takes place -- at least part of the time -- in Boston during the American Revolution. At approximately 30 and 40 seconds the Old State House will pop into view. In order to satisfy your comparative impulses, take a look at the photos below. Just a quick note -- these were taken on the camera packed into my less-than-stellar, no-g phone.

Visiting the Old State House is a lot of fun, too. Every entrant receives a fresh colonial identity. Some lucky museum-goers even get to be the second President of the United States, John Adams ("If I was from Paris, I would say, 'Ooooh la la, la la la la'"). Most famously, just outside of the building marks the site of the Boston Massacre, and built into the sidewalk at the corner of Washington and Court Street is this map of Bean history.
Til next time!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fine Arts, Museum of

I am a bit tired now, and can't think of much to post. Scrolling through my pictures, however, did turn up these gems from the new(ish) contemporary art wing of the Museum of Fine Arts. My girlfriend and I went months ago, so I must apologize for the tardiness.

If you do go to the museum sometime soon, allocate some time for the contemporary art wing -- at the very least because it is so different than much of the rest of the collection. Take a peek at Iago's Mirror, one of my favorites. (This link to Iago's Mirror is through the Brooklyn Museum, where it is no longer on display -- as it is here in the Bean, natch.)

P.S. All credit for the pictures really goes to the people who assembled what has been photographed.

P.P.S. For you art enthusiasts, be sure to check out Google's awesome new service to humanity, the art project, a digital museum patched together from the world's finest (from the Acropolis Museum to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University -- that's its A-Z, folks).

Til next time!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Totally Tubular!

Tunnels are just a fact of life in the Bean -- especially those of the high-speed interstate variety. Enjoy this picture, which I find to be a bit Escher-like. Where have your roots gone, little tree?

Til next time!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hey New Building, Be You!

Whoah -- starting with a pun? Really? Really.

Okay, so we're back to Boston now. It's been a few posts relating to other things (new tallest building in NYC, New Orleans, the Avengers). Let's just call May the month of otherness, and promptly find ourselves back in the Bean.

Anybody walking around Kenmore lately will have noticed the building going up on Boston University's edge of the square. Well, it seems (more than seems, actually) that BU is constructing a new student center for its East campus, complete with a dining hall. Let me just say (from experience) that sounds like an awesome idea. Oh, how I miss dining halls...

Anyways, the building will serve other purposes as well, which can be found here, along with a sketch of the completed facade.

The pic on the left is actually a few weeks old, whereas the one on the right is from circa today. So is the one below, which features its Bay State Road visage.

Til next time!

Monday, May 21, 2012

More of This Avengers Business

Despite the film not coming out until 2012, The Avengers the comic book premiered in the 1960s. So while the superheroes swamp our advertisements today, we can only imagine what kinds of things they would have been promoting had they been that much closer to reality 50 years ago -- in what may be referred to as the "real Mad Men time." Fortunately, I was able to take a little bit of that wondering and bring it into (semi) reality.

There is plenty of other Avengers goodness all over the Net at the moment. There's this pearl from a real life analysis firm that estimated the damage done to Manhattan. One million dollars. Just kidding -- a little Austin Powers reference there. There's also this 100% hilarious Saturday Night Live skit about the Hulk

Til next time.

Shakespeare in the Park? Doth Mother Know You Weareth Her Drapes?

If you haven't seen The Avengers yet, then the title of this post makes no sense whatsoever (and is minorly spoilerish, as is the rest of the post). If you have, though,  you totally got it and at least chuckled. It is one of the many great moments in the film that can be neatly filed under "Iron Man's Snarky Comments." Of course, Mr. Stark does share some friendly moments with Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, that are the highlight of the film.

In case you can't tell, this weekend was essentially occupied by one thing and one thing only: The Avengers. I actually saw it twice -- once in 3D and once without that most unnecessary of dimensions. (Not to be a snob, but I do actually enjoy 2D movies more than 3D.) Anyways, I saw the film both times at the Regal Fenway 13, which is conveniently attached to the Landmark Center (of which I could have sworn I had a picture, but apparently do not).

Back to The Avengers. I give it my highest review: 3 out of 3 Michelin Stars. One star is for the fantastic use of Black Widow and Hawkeye, the second for Tony Stark and Bruce Banner's exchange on the helicarrier, and the third for the special effects smash up that was the crescendo of the film.

Thanks for joining me for my first movie review.

Til next time!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Foodie Review

Elsewheres: New Orleans

Hello all, welcome back for the most anticipated post of our New Orleans trip, the foodie review. Yes, indeed, wherever I go and whomever I speak with, everyone wants to know the same thing about the Big Easy: how was the food? Some people ask excitedly with anticipation and others with fearful trepidation, as if the Cajun and Creole spices themselves are out for their weak tongues. Too far? Okay, I will calm down.

First up, Mr. B's Bistro. This is the first place that we stopped to eat, and it was fantastic. Excellent gumbo (of both the chicken and sausage and seafood kind), great drinks, and fantastic shrimp (coconut beer-battered with a fruit chutney for dipping -- yum).
Next, there is, of course, Brennan's. I had the steak tornadoes (I know that isn't how they are properly spelled, but spell check apparently can't handle "tournedo"). They were delicious. Brennan's is most famous for inventing the Banana's Foster. So we had that, as well, and it was incredible, natch.

We also ate at the Court of the Two Sisters, the first prix fixe meal of my life. It was delicious, and the barbecue shrimp (which is actually dripping in a butter-pepper sauce) was undeniably good. This was the shrimp that made me question whether I could ever compete in the Hunger Games (my airplane read); seriously, once you try this shrimp, you cannot go back.

Now for a few quick hits. Had Hurricanes in the place of their birth, Pat O'Brien's. Just as awesome as you'd expect. Next, the iced coffee at Royal Blend, is the best in the world. It was so good, I went right back and got another. Lastly, beignets and au lait at Cafe du Monde. Could anyone have expected anything less than incredible? Beignets really should be available anywhere and everywhere. Just look at all of that powdered sugar!


Til next time!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"Wonderful Things"

Elsewheres: New Orleans

Guess what? I wasn't in the Bean this weekend at all -- instead, I was celebrating the wedding of two friends in New Orleans. It was a fantastic weekend, full of good people, good times, good food, and good architecture. There will be more to come, but in the meantime, enjoy the views:

Just a quick reminder -- these pictures were my own hard work, so please don't pilfer them. Honestly, if you asked to use any of them, I would just be excited to know someone read and liked this blog.

Also, just so you get an idea of New Orleans in early May, please enjoy this photo, where my camera became subject to instant condensation (or some other technical weather event).

Last but not least, happy birthday to Howard Carter, the discoverer of King Tut's tomb in Egypt. This birthday message comes courtesy of today's Google doodle. Follow the link for all sorts of ancient architectural awesome (alliterative high-five!).

Til next time.