ICA Boston

Architects Diller  Scofidio + Renfro were the designers of this museum, which has received rave reviews in the design press since its opening in late 2006.  The museum is a great place to see art, and the terrace overlooking the harbor is a nice gesture to the long neglected Boston waterfront, and is part of the Harborwalk, a long walk which runs along the edge of the water from the North End to the new museum.  But as a building, a piece of architecture, this thing sucks.

Unless you're on the other side of the harbor, which most of us aren't, your view of this building is one of empty, sad looking metal panels and dim channel glass with the requisite scatter pattern of openings, trying to look interesting but failing miserably.  The building doesn't even try to connect to the city behind it, and instead is focused on the water, where it succeeds in engaging with the harbor and public walk.  For most of the design community, it seems, this is enough, and many are just relieved to have a "modern" building go up in Boston, let alone one not covered in brick.  But why does it have to be so ugly?

This building is completely lacking in grace.  It's an intellectual exercise that in the modern tradition relegated aesthetics to a residual component of the mental game being played.  Viewed from the side you can see one of the (very fashionable) games played, that of the undulating plane that alternately moves between being floor and wall, and then back to ceiling/floor.

This is most successful on the north side (above), where there is an auditorium to play into the hands of this formal game, but on the south side you have only a ball of confusion, as the plane wiggles back and forth, fighting for definition on the flat facade (below).  This makes my butt look pretty, and i'm a skinny old man.  For good reason, you almost never see a picture of it from this side.

I want to just declare this an ugly, heavy handed building, but another thing that bothers me, and which i see as rampant in the world of architecture these days, is the concealing of structure for the sake of a formal exercise.  When you look at the pictures above, don't you marvel at the cantilever?  Don't you wonder how this thing is held up?  You won't get any answers in this building, they want you to believe its all magic.  Like a 19th century neo-you-name-it, with concealed steel beneath stone pretend, structure here is suppressed.  Suppressed in the name of what?  At least in the 19th century, you got a nice, civil looking building out of the exercise.  Now we get eyesores.

i suppose i could go on and on about what has happened to beauty in modernism, but that has to wait for another post.

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