Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

MIT has some of the most cutting edge architecture you will find anywhere in the U.S. The most arresting is Frank Gehry's Ray & Maria Stata Center (Vassar St. near Massachusetts Ave.), completed in 2004. Bill Gates as well as the Statas was a heavy funder. Noam Chomsky (linguist) and Tim Berners-Lee (founder World Wide Web) have offices within.

MIT's "front" entrance is at 77 Mass. Ave, but the famous shot of the dome can be had from Memorial Dr. As a famous prank, students once cajoled a live cow to the top of the dome. One of my favorite mind bending buildings is Simmons Hall, also on Vassar St., built as an undergraduate dorm in 2002 and designed by Steve Holl. It's fantastic honeycomb or "sponge" design is mind boggling when confronted up close. Windows are square (5,500 of them !) and 2 ft in dimension. Most single rooms have 9 windows.

Mathematician and architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros has harshly criticized the Stata Center: "An architecture that reverses structural algorithms so as to create disorder—the same algorithms that in an infinitely more detailed application generate living form—ceases to be architecture. Deconstructivist buildings are the most visible symbols of actual deconstruction. The randomness they embody is the antithesis of nature's organized complexity...Housing a scientific department at a university inside the symbol of its nemesis must be the ultimate irony."

East Cambridge, Cambridge, Massachusetts

I spent 5 years at MIT only 10 blocks south of this fascinating part of Cambridge - it is the only part of Cambridge with streets laid out in a rectangular grid, with numbered streets, First through Sixth. I never knew what treasures were so close by. In the early 1800s there was a little coup in setting up government buildings in the area, well away from Harvard, beginning in 1814 with the Middlesex County Courthouse designed by Charles Bulfinch (who built U.S Capital and also figures in Quarters A in Brooklyn Navy Yard blog). Unfortunately it was constructed poor;y and the replacement structure (1848) was designed by Ammi B. Young (designed early Dartmouth College buildings) on 3rd St. On the corner of 3rd and Cambridge St. is arguably the finest neoclassical building in Massachusetts, the Registry of Deeds (1898), a gargantuan brownstone edifice, designed by Olin B. Cutter. Also pictured are New York-style brownstones on 3rd St. (known as Quality Row). Cute 3-bay firehouse also pictured on 3rd St. Last but not least is a dazzling 3-story structure clothed in the finest of vinyl siding on Gore St. (near 3rd, of course), now occupied by a future Nobel laureate, Micah Breakstone (inside joke!).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rockville Historic District, Vernon, Connecticut

Rockville was named after "The Rock," a natural dam of solid stone on the Hockanum River and was a major site for textile mills in the period 1834-1906. The town was consolidated with neighbor Vernon in 1965. Spectacular architecture is visible downtown in the William and Alice Maxwell House (1905), which later was absorbed by the Rockville General Hospital, and the George Maxwell Memorial Library (1904), both designed by New York architect Charles A. Platt.

Walking North on Elm St. leads to the tiny Talcott Park, surrounded by whimsical Victorian homes, many on Prospect St. adorned with soaring widow's peaks. Noteworthy are the James I. Regan House (1860) at 60 Prospect (double widows peak) and the Charles Phelps House (1905) at 1 Ellington Ave. (behind backhoe) by Hartwell, Richardson & Driver (Boston).

Outstanding adaptive reuse projects have been applied to the Florence Mill (1864), Hockanum Mills (1849), and Springville Mill (1886) all on West Main St.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn

First commissioned in 1801 by Thomas Jefferson, the U.S. Navy bought Brooklyn's oldest industry, a shipyard in Wallabout Bay. The Brooklyn Navy Yard is bounded by Navy St., Flushing and Kent Aves., covering over 200 acres. During World War II it employed 70,000 people around the clock. This is a place that just aches with history. America's most famous warships were commissioned here, including the Monitor, the world's first modern warship, the Maine, whose sinking caused the Spanish-American War, the Arizona, whose sinking launched the U.S. into World War II, and the Missouri, on whose deck WWII ended. Great photos of the BNY are found in Thomas Berner's The Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Granite-walled Dry Dock No. 1 (pictured w/crane) is the 3rd oldest dry dock in the U.S. (1851). According to AIA Guide to NYC, it is attributed to Thornton MacNess Niven, architect and master of masonry. It was used to outfit the nation's first ironclad ship, USS Monitor, with turrets and guns, before it sailed south to fight the CSS Merrimac during the Civil War. It also serviced the Niagara, the vessel that laid the first transatlantic cable. Kennedy's PT 109 was delivered for fitting in 1942, before sinking in the Pacific. No doubt many famous people reported for duty at the BNY including Humphrey Bogart (in 1918), later to become famous actor.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. administers the BNY for the City of New York, which bought the 300+ acre site from the Navy for $24 million in 1966.
The emphasis is on Green Development and the massive Bldg #128 (see interior and exterior shots) will become the Green Manufacturing Center. It has 60 ft ceilings and once supported an 80 ton crane way. The Paymaster Building (photo) is undergoing renovation.

The New York Fire Department operates out of one of he Piers. Cumberland Packing Corp. (Sweet'n Low) is a noteworthy tenant. Also Steiner Studios, the largest film and television production studio complex outside of Hollywood, has a large new building at the BNY.

Admiral's Row, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn

Admiral's Row (also called Officer's Row) is a row of Second Empire-style homes (1864-1901), some dating back to the Civil War, formerly used by Naval officers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, now owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a plot of 8 acres. In 2001, the last of the Brooklyn Navy Yard was signed over to the City with one exception - Admiral's Row. While the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. has declared that the residences have been damaged beyond repair, the report by the USACE ( refutes this claim and meet all eligibility requirements for the National Register of Historic Places.

These sadly abandoned buildings are visible through the brush and vines along Flatbush Ave. starting at Navy St. The designation of the buildings is labelled Quarters B through L (Quarters A is not located on the row and is happily a well-preserved Federal style mansion off of Little St. (see blog). Quarters B was occupied by Commodore Matthew C. Perry while he was Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. As can be seen from the photos taken of the barely visible front facades of the homes, through the iron fence on Flatbush Ave., the homes are dilapidated, open to the elements and animals, as well as vandals.

The Officer's Row Project is collecting photos, which can be seen at One project is interviewing former tenants, called the Admiral's Row Oral History (AROH). The Kingston Lounge (who advertise as guerilla preservationists and urban archeologists) have fabulous photos at and
Still hungry for more photos ? go to the Pasilalinic-Sympathetic Compass at

Sunday, September 12, 2010

1838 Marine Hospital Annex, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Brooklyn

Deep in the heart of Brooklyn lies some urban archeology that is the closest thing New York City has to Cambodia's Angkor Wat. The Navy Yard Hospital Building and the Surgeon's Residence are both designated as NYC Landmark buildings. Technically, they lie outside of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and can be viewed through the gates on Flushing Ave. - they were referred to as an "Annex of the U.S. Naval Receiving Station, Brooklyn, NY." The property was acquired in 1966 by the City of New York and administered by the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp.

During the Civil War, the hospital would supply over 1/3 of the medicines used by the Union troops.

According to the AIA Guide to NYC, the Greek Revival hospital is made of marble quarried locally (Sing Sing) by those hapless prisoners. AIA suggests that such buildings were inspirational for Albert Speer's visions for Hitler's Berlin. Martin E. Thompson was a talented Greek Revivalist architect. Excellent photos of both the Hospital and the French Empire Surgeon's House (with a concave-profiled mansard roof) appear on the web inadvertently uploaded to the Quarters A NRHP site at A tall flagpole and obscure memorial commemorating soldiers who died in the Canton River (now Guangzhou and Pearl River) in 1856 during the Battle of the Barrier Forts at the beginning of the 2nd Opium War are the only clues of a stately lawn long forgotten. A photo in Berner's The Brooklyn Naval Yard shows the Canton memorial originally stood at the Sands St. gate.

The Kingston Lounge (who advertise as guerrilla preservationists and urban archeologist's) have fabulous photos of the Annex at

DUMBO & Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn

DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and adjacent Vinegar Hill lie east of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Spectacular views abound of the bridge, especially a shot I took on Washington St. (at Water St.) showing the Empire State Building framed by the columns of the bridge.
Nearby, at the Brooklyn Bridge park, it is hard not to see brides & grooms posing for photos. Heading towards Vinegar Hill, there is a fabulous mural on Water St. (at Jay St.).

Vinegar Hill is very quiet, with tree lined cobble stone streets comprised of 1860s Belgian bricks. The neighborhood is named after a battle of Irish Independence, since the local population was largely Irish in the 1800s.

Rounding the corner from Evans St. onto Little St., is a breathtaking Navy Yard commandant's mansion, in the Federal style, known as Quarters A, possibly built in 1806 by Charles Bulfinch (architect of the U.S. Capital). The National Register of Historic Places application is on the web at and and indicates Bulfinch designed the house in association with John McComb, Jr. All the nails are handmade of wrought iron. The most noted resident (1841-1843) was Commodore Matthew C. Perry, who lived in the house 10 years prior to his opening of Japan. I have a brass and glass encased mantel clock that was believed to be on Perry's ship to Japan. You can see an abandoned 1950s Studebaker behind the gates. This house was forfeited by the Navy in 1966 when the yard was decommissioned, but, uniquely was sold to a private individual. The balance of the Yard was acquired by the City of New York for one dollar.