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Boston Architecture

(AFR): You are right in the heart of Boston. Historic Charlestown is a very conservative architectural environment—despite all of the 21st century technologies surrounding it. Things are rooted here in tradition. So what are some of the specific challenges you face in trying to respond to that history in what you are doing?

(BA): It seems like the outcome is a controversial one. Not from my point of view because I understand it. What I am finding is that most people either really do love these things or hate them.

So it is a love [or] hate relationship with your architecture?

(BA): I don't mind that at all. The worst thing that can happen is that people don't care. Even so, in an odd way I feel I am building for the future.

Right. It is worse if they don't notice the architecture at all?

(BA): It seems to effect them emotionally. Look, I had a woman call on the phone. She said, "is this the architect of the house on Grove Street? It is hideous". A week later I got another call from someone walking their dog from out of town and they said "this is the coolest house I have ever seen". Same thing with the neighbors, some people love it, others want to call the cops.

Controversy can often be a good thing in the arts, in this town controversy can be tough.

(BA): I am not quite sure why because it is for odd things. For example, flat roofs in Cambridge. We did 4 units over on Bella Circle. People thought how absurd that it has flat roofs. I think I opened people's minds because I reminded them that half of the building stock in Cambridge have flat roofs. Maybe it is a "class" idea of housing: flat roof verses pitch roof, worker housing versus proper housing. There certainly is attitude about different types of housing. I am amazed that people don't look at their environment more when they judge modern architecture. They only look at part of their environment, the part they want to see.

Does this controversy bother you? Even a little?

(BA): In find the controversy stimulating. There are so many ways to go in practice. There are so many great architects that do traditional buildings -- more power to them. "I love this". I think there is a growing market for this kind of edge.

Commanding views and abundant sunlight (left and middle). Use of ArchiCAD's state-of-the-art BIM (building information modeling) technology allowed architect Bob Augustine to communicate to developer/builder effectively. Bellis Circle housing struck controversy in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city with extensive and varied use of flat roofs in existent housing stock (right).

You were in the Boston Globe "Modern Love" article. It implies that there are Bostonians out there wanting modern architecture.

(BA): I don't think the market is as big for modern architecture as for the traditional market or builder market. I think it is twenty percent of the total market. But for people who want it, there isn't anything out there. These people want jazz, personality. I look at what is out there and there is nothing. They would buy it if they could get it and the towns made it easier for us to build it.

There is a lot of talk of the Baby Boomers leaving their large homes in the suburbs and coming into the city. They are moving into sleek buildings glass, modern design. They are moving into modernism which can be found in upscale urban living. Is this the same phenomena as you were saying before that some people want more progressive architecture, wanting less tradition? What do you think this market is?


The Creative Class: Luxury and Desire

(BA): There is an author that wrote a book called "Building for the Creative Class" (Richard Florida). He talks about a creative class of home owners which live in worker housing. These workers are not brick layers but professionals working at Harvard, in technologies, artists, one of my clients is a retro pop girls band member, another is an architect. Florida argues that supporting this creative class is essential if our cities are to survive and thrive. It is an unusual mix of people. I think what has happened is there is nothing out there for these folks, nothing at all. Someone who is up-and-coming in the world is looking around to find a fresh expression that isn't living in the past. On the other hand, it can be so ironic, some rock bands get successful and the next thing you know they move into a tutor mansion.

(AFR): Do you think that traditional architecture like tudor mansions symbolize money, therefore symbolize success?

(BA): Yes, it symbolizes the dollar bill, making it.

That's interesting, the irony there. People can be so successful through "counter-cultural" means but once they reach success they contradict themselves through architecture.

Do you believe there can be a new kind of architecture that becomes a new currency, a different way of symbolizing "you have made it"?

(BA): I do feel architecture can be a currency for new alliances and new values. Making it becomes getting it.

Not sure what you mean by that...

(BA): It is challenging that status quo with some fresh thinking. If you don't have anybody playing up against tradition than tradition doesn't change.

(AFR) Apple has on some level always been considered a luxury brand for its computers. Then comes along the iPod, reasonably price-competitive and a huge mass-market hit. Has Apple broken the luxury symbolism with its newfound success?

(BA): It's different than that. For me their design has always created desire. I am not sure why this is.

But is it the same type of desire that causes the successful rock band to desire -- and acquire -- the Tudor mansion?

(BA): I don't think so. It is a desire to be different, to deal with the world in new ways. It can make new associations. Their design inspires us to sample and reframe our world. It is counter-cultural.

Actually I wish Apple might play a bigger part in the technology of our profession, in architecture.


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