The Bruts of Boston

If one can tear themselves away from the cobblestoned beauty of Quincy market, from the culinary delights of Faneuil Hall, and from the narrow streets of the Italian North End that is practically bursting at its seams with history, and head towards Government center and City Hall in what was known as Scollay Square, one will come face to face with these gargantuan, yet lyrical, concrete giants of brutalism.

The post-World War II era put Boston on a path to reinvigorate itself and tear off the shackles of narrow cobblestones streets and old brownstone buildings. Brutalism architecture with its honest, concrete, progressive look seemed to fit the bill.

Brutalism is a sub-genre of modernist architecture that lasted from 1950s to mid-70s. It is so called not because of the “brutish” appearance of the building but is taken from the French term for raw concrete, “beton brut.” It was mostly used for government buildings, schools, and public housing built after World War II.  Brutalism is characterized by the blocky appearance of buildings that most often have a recurring geometric design and are built with massive amounts of poured concrete.

Boston City Hall and the Government Center buildings stand a stone’s throw from the Quincy market – but centuries separate these two sites architecturally. Other buildings followed -including the State Street Bank, Boston Five Cents Savings Bank, the Harbor Towers and the MIT Hermann Building. Today Boston boasts the largest concentration of brutalist architecture in the US.

Government Center Building

(All imges courtesy of Boston Magazine and Architectural Digest websites).

Le Corbusier… in India

After the partition of Pakistan and India in 1947, the capital of Punjab went to Pakistan, leaving India’s state of Punjab without a capital city. Prime Minister Nehru wanted a city that that looked to the future and showed a modern and progressive India. He selected le Corbusier to design Chandigarh.

Corbusier’s buildings in the tropical climate of Chandigarh show his pact with nature. He has used the brise soleil technique to keep buildings cooler in the harsh sun by adding shade creating areas in the façade of the building while using concrete construction throughout. His signature elements of beton brut construction and brise soliel techniques are evident in the buildings he designed for the capitol complex.

The stark grey concrete simplicity and the organized calm of Chandigarh stands in complete contrast to the chaotic and colorful mess that is India – these 15,000 acres stand as a testament to Nehru and Corbusier’s vision for a modern India.

Frank LLoyd Wright in Florida

Usonian House at Florida Southern College

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867 – 1959) is a uniquely American artist who created America’s distinct architectural style based on its vast open lands and prairies. The combination of a Midwestern upbringing, the launch of his architectural career in Chicago, and the building boom in Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 all propelled him towards architectural greatness – something his mother had predicted for him when she decorated his nursey with engravings of English cathedrals.

Fallingwater

Wright’s genius in blending nature and architecture is most fully realized in Fallingwater in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. This incredible home was set directly on the water fall that the owners wanted to enjoy. On a larger scale he built the Guggenheim museum in the shape of a spiraling nautical shell. Those of us living in Central Florida, do not have to venture far to see the works of Frank Lloyd Wright – the largest  collection of his buildings on one site is right here in Florida Southern College.

In 1938, Ludd Spivey, president of the College reached out to Wright to help with the expansion of the college. Wright who had been wanting to build an entire community jumped at the chance. He designed 12 structures for this campus including a chapel, a water dome, and miles of covered walkways, collectively called “Child of the Sun”.

The Great Depression would have halted the construction of these buildings but for the ingenious solution that the college arrived at – students were used for construction labor in exchange for free tuition – a win-win situation during the country’s great economic crisis. When WWII started and male students left – the female students took over the task of construction.

Female Students carried on the task of construction on campus when the male students left for WWII

In 1975, this stunning campus with its concentration of Wright architecture was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. (Images courtesy of FSC site and fallingwater.org).

French Provincial in Orlando

I have been seeing this house almost every day for years – it’s right by my school. And every time I drive past it, I am amazed at its beauty – with its aged look, an almost sagging roof, whitewashed brick, intricate woodwork, long gothic looking windows, and somewhat overgrown garden. It looks like it should be in a village in France – not in Orlando.

When I started to research the house, I learned it known as the Ingram House, and was designed by a celebrated American architect James Gamble Rogers II (1901-1990), who practiced mostly in Winter Park and is known for his work in the Spanish Revival, Mediterranean Revival, French Provincial, and Colonial Revival Styles.

Mills Library at Rollins College in Winter Park

Rogers II is responsible for giving Winter Park its look because of the many gorgeous buildings he designed in that city – among them Casa Feliz, Barbour Apartments, Greeneda Court, and numerous building at Rollins College. He also designed the Florida Supreme Court building in a Greek Revival Style.

Another really interesting fact about Rogers II is that he is the nephew of renowned architect James Gamble Rogers (1867-1947) who designed many buildings at Yale, Northwestern, and Columbia Universities.

(Images courtesy Winter Park Library and University Websites).

A Romanesque Monastery in Florida

One would never expect to find a 900-year-old Romanesque monastery on the West Dixie Highway near Miami – but that is exactly what one would find on this secluded, not so easy to find, location – the monastery of Saint Bernard de Clairvaux.

The monastery was originally built in Sacramenia, Segovia in northern Spain in the 12th Century. When construction finished in 1141, it was dedicated to Mary, and was called “The Monastery of our Lady.” When Bernard of Clairvaux was canonized in 1174, the monastery was renamed in his honor. Bernard was a Cistercian monk, and the monastery was occupied by Cistercian monks for 700 years after that. In the 1830s, the cloisters were seized by the city for nonpayment of taxes and sold to a farmer who converted it into a granary and a stable.

Another 100 years later, in 1925, publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst illegally purchased the monastery, for a cost of $500,000 with the intention of rebuilding it on his estate in California. He had it deconstructed stone by stone and each stone was numbered and wrapped in hay – a total of 11,000 crates were shipped to the US. Only the original church remained in Sacramenia where it stands to this day.

Santa Maria la Real de Sacramenia

By the time it arrived in the US, there was a hoof-and-mouth disease in northern Spain, and the entire shipment was quarantined. Moreover, the hay was burned to prevent the spread of disease in the US. When removing the hay, the workers neglected to put the stones back in the numbered boxes, which ultimately caused a great deal of expense and confusion when the monastery was reassembled.

Hearst fell into financial difficulties, and the disassembled stones lay in a warehouse in Brooklyn for the next 26 years. After his death in 1952, the entire shipment was purchased by two Florida entrepreneurs W. Edgemon and R. Moss who had everything shipped to Miami. There, the monastery was painstakingly assembled – the entire process took 19 months, and because of the mismatching, several stones remained from which a parish hall was built. The monastery was sold a few times after that, until 1964 when philanthropist Colonel Robert Pentland, Jr. bought it and donated it to the Southern Florida parish of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

On another continent, 1000s of miles away from its birthplace, a long journey after being disassembled, and then being assembled back like a jigsaw puzzle decades later – it is truly incredible that the monastery is back with the same Cistercian monk in whose honor it was named. (Images courtesy Sacramenia and Miami travel sites and spanishmonastery.com).

The Venice of Florida

The town of Winter Park in Central Florida is truly a gem. One of its many highlights is a chain of lakes that are connected to each other with narrow canals – hence the honorary title – Venice of Florida. The canals were built by lumber companies in the late 1800s for the purpose of connecting the lakes so that logs cut from surrounding forests could float all the way to sawmills.

These days, one can float down the canal and feel miles away from the city. The canal is surrounded by tropical trees and offers glimpses of beautiful historic homes of Winter park. As one floats down the canal, there is a canopy of lush trees of all kinds that provide shade. There are ancient oaks and cypress tress laden heavy with Spanish moss.

Artist Don Sondag grew up in Winter Park and loves these canals which he paints frequently.

(Images Courtesy Winter Park Magazine).