ruminations about architecture and design

Friday, August 22, 2014

art deco and neoclassicism

Is the evolution of architectural style an abrupt or gradual thing? Today, I'm going to make an argument in favor of abrupt change--and change that is mandated by select individuals who can wield considerable influence in the design profession. The picture above shows the boundary between two large buildings that were/are/might be part of the John Hancock complex near Copley Square. The street they share is thoroughly dead--dead because of the monumentality imposed by these icons of corporate logic. They were built within in twenty-five years of each other, and designed by architects who don't have to be mentioned by name.

The building on the right is a solid example of early twentieth century neo-classicism. The detailing is of average quality and I have no idea what the interior spaces are like. In the 1980's It was considered as a candidate for demolition, but economic logic prevailed over the idea of creating a compromised, semi-public plaza.

The building on the left is a deeply conservative example of the Boston art deco, but an art deco that was flirting with the vocabulary of modernism. The horizontal divisions of the window strips speak volumes about the ambiguity and confusion of its designers. But, and I say this with complete lack of irony, it has more character than nearly every modern building in Boston.

In the span of two decades, the neoclassical model, was supplanted by the art deco modern. But whereas neoclassicism feels like a solid part of the architectural landscape, the art deco comes across as a fringe movement that enjoyed less than thirty years in the architectural spotlight before getting steamrolled by the International Style.

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