in the Public Realm
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Previous Newsletters Vol. 2 Issue 8 - August, 2012

Every four years we find ourselves glued to our television screens rooting for a team of athletes competing in sporting events we've barely heard of. We bite what's left of our nails into a pulp as we watch them twist and hurl themselves high into the sky and somehow land straighter, swim faster, and jump higher than they ever thought possible. We didn't actually imagine that we too would face our own Olympic challenge this summer as we are closer to menopause than puberty. Nor did we think it would occur in the world of cultural mapping which, to be honest, we had never previously considered an actual sport. Since we've had interns, made maps, and curated exhibitions for the past ten years, when the idea arose to try it in Boston, we plunged right in. And that is how we found ourselves spending the summer at the BSA Space (our venue) with a team of architecture and urban design students from Harvard's Graduate School of Design making the city come alive.

All Bostonians of a certain age will tell you about the Where's Boston Exhibition in 1975. Created by Cambridge Seven for the Bicentennial, it was a multimedia show that played continually in a red white and blue tent in the Prudential Center Plaza until a blizzard dumped 28" of snow on the city in 1978 and the tent fell down. The exhibition took the pulse of the city by listening to Bostonians talk about places important to them. Forty years later, we grabbed our iPhones and reached out to everyone we could think of who played a role in shaping the city.

Emailing people other people know is usually a quick route to their junk mail. But not this time. Positive responses began flying in within minutes of the first time we pushed the send button. The city embraced the project in a way we never thought possible. They opened their doors to us, found time to talk to us, and called on us in our adopted home. We met artists, architects, historians, journalists, ...We stopped counting podcasts when we reached 100. Our intimate little Pecha Kucha last Thursday with 18 Bostonians sharing their thoughts about the city was a standing room only event. If you happen to be in New York this evening, join us at the Center for Architecture for a symposium about the project. On Friday we are installing a Conference Room Wall long archeological map of Boston showing the layers of landfill with push pins marking out some of the sites that we thought were interesting. As we add to it, there will be more pins. If you can't make it, Everything is online and on the apps.

Abby Suckle, President
Featured Art Collections:

Like other cities, Boston is liberally tattooed with public art. What is interesting is how it is commissioned and paid for. Cambridge across the river has a traditional Percent for Art program. Boston commissions its works from monies left to the city in 1892 by Edward Ingersoll Browne, a successful Boston trust attorney with a strong sense of civic pride and public spirit, who wrote his will directing that one-third of his estate be set aside, in a special fund, for the improvement of Boston's public spaces. Beginning with a project in Post Office Square, Boston started to spend the money for public art. Since we usually select sculptures to highlight, we thought it would be interesting this time to focus on the street furniture.

With the advent of bike shares in Boston, designing bike racks for public buildings becomes a prominent part of a city's collection of street furniture such as Richard Duca's racks sitting in front of Machado and Silvetti's recently completed Honan - Allston Public Library. One of the most unfortunate traffic triangles in Cambridge is a no-man's land in front of the Porter Square Subway and train station at the Intersection with Mass Avenue. Bus Lines surround the plaza which Toshihiro Katayama painted to be a no-go safe zone for the pedestrians crossing.
Then & Now


The creation of Government Center, the West End, and the Prudential Center complex were typical of mid-century urban redevelopment in Boston. By superimposing massive concrete projects on large swaths of the city, the schemes effectively obliterated the smaller, older original neighborhoods. This, in turn, precipitated Jane Jacob's polemic, the Death and Life of the American City which called for the recalibration of urban planning.

For Boston, both of these approaches to urban design came together in the largest project of all, the Big Dig. At vast public expense, the I-93 or the Central Artery was rerouted in order to reconnect the city to the waterfront. Completed in 2007, Boston is still struggling with animating the resulting Greenway. Peter Vanderwarker has been photgraphing the Central Artery from North Station. Here's the series:
Photo courtesy of the Mass Dept of Highways
Peter Vanderwarker
Peter Vanderwarker
Peter Vanderwarker
Peter Vanderwarker
Peter Vanderwarker
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LandWave (2011) S. Gilles-Smith, M. Kilkelly, F. Cormier
Photo courtesty of the Boston Art Commission

Serpentine Fence (2010) Beth Galston
Boston Arts Commission

Honan-Allston Bike Racks (2006) Richard Duca
Photo courtesy of Christina Lanzi

Porter Square Plaza (2008) Toshihiro Katayama
Cambridge Arts Council. Photo courtesy of the Artist

In 1975 Boston artist Clara Wainwright was planning to go to another boring New Years Eve party and decided to put together the kind of New Year's Eve Party she would like to attend filled with temporary artworks. The result was the first First Night. Today Boston is one of many cities to open their Museums on New Year's Eve.

Man from City Hall - First Night 1989/90
Photo courtesy of the artist


By any measure one of the most beloved sculptures in town is Nancy Schon's Make Way for Ducklings which sits in the Boston Garden and depicts Mrs Mallard and her eight ducklings. The incredibly popular children's book of 1942 tells the adventure of the Mallard offspring after a long and frightening journey dodging bicycles all the way from the Charles River to the Boston Garden so that they could have a new home with the swan boats and eat peanuts with Mr. Mallard. Copies of the sculpture have found their way to Moscow and even the White House. Nancy Schon, originally trained as a modern sculptor, saw this work and its immense popularity as a transitional moment in her career and turned to figurative animal sculpture since then; many of her subsequent works can be found throughout the city's parks.

In 1913 when the Boston subway was constructed, archeologists found evidence of Fish Weirs which were used by Native Americans 5200 years earlier to catch fish. This became the inspiration for Ross Miller's Fish Weir Project at Arlington Station when Leers Weinzapfel renovated it. His Harbor Fog is an interactive sculpture designed under the Zakin Bridge as part of the Rose Kennedy Greenway which replaced the Central Artery.

Fish Weir Project (1976) Ross Miller
Collection of MBTA

Harbor Fog (2008) Ross Miller
Boston Art Commission. Photo Courtesy of the Artist

Make Way for Ducklings (1987) Nancy Schon
Boston Art Commission. Photo courtesy of Jessica Edwards

Tortoise & the Hare (1994) Nancy Schon
Boston Art Commission. Photo courtesy of Jessica Edwards

Boston has more than its share of architects because of the many architectural schools there. We picked two of the most interesting firms this month to highlight. Andrea Leers and Jane Weinzapfel formed their own architecture firm in 1982, when women were just beginning to consider careers in the field. Before that moment, successful women architects were successful because they were married to successful male architects. They were often caught in the trap of designing interiors and kitchens. What Andrea Leers and Jane Weinzapfel did was to build a practice on the same kind of thoughtful public projects that their male counterparts were undertaking. It took a long time, but they began to build many elegant civic and cultural buildings throughout Boston and the country - courthouses, universities, transit facilities and performing arts centers. Several years ago they were the AIA Firm of the Year and have become role models for the next generation.

In contrast, we selected Larry Chan and Alex Krieger's practice which blends architecture with planning for two reasons. Their work is also thoughtful, but in a town filled with architects, we admired their chutzpa by tackling renovations to the two most guaranteed to be talked about buildings in town: Boston City Hall plaza and Holyoke Center. And, since our project was map based, we turned to Alex Krieger who has an extraordinary knowledge about the city and wrote the definitive book on mapping Boston called, not surprisingly Mapping Boston.
Paul S. Russell, MD Museum at Mass. General Hospital
Photo courtesy of Leers Weinzapfel Associates
Dudley Square Police Station
photo courtesy of Leers Weinzapfel Associates
City Hall Plaza Community Arcade
Photo courtesy of Peter Vanderwarker
Holyoke Center
Photo Courtesy of Chan Krieger NBBJ