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The Charles Bulfinch Medal

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By David Brussat

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wednesday’s celebration of the second annual Bulfinch Awards was a splendid evening of fun and edification at the Grand Staircase of the Massachusetts State House, designed by Charles Bulfinch himself. His spirit seemed to hover benevolently as attendees talked architecture and munched on hors d’ouvres that seemed to outdo even last year’s feast in splendor.

Eventually, the crowd of 126 – up strongly from 80 last year – found their seats and listened as ICAA President Paul Gunther opened the ceremony, applauding the chapter for its award program and this second set of winners for proving, once again, the fecundity of design in New England. Mr. Gunther handed off to chapter President John Margolis, who applauded the prize jury and the corporate sponsors of the program and of the evening’s festivities. President Margolis introduced chapter board member John Tittmann, of Albert, Righter & Tittmann, who introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Judge Douglas Woodlock.

Judge Woodlock delivered a most engaging and erudite talk about the challenges of propriety in achieving a design for civic buildings that honors and serves, without overwhelming, the citizens of a democracy. He clearly sits with the Institute in his love for high classicism and his disdain for much of what has not even attempted, really, to fit in its shoes this past half century. Accompanying his discussion were images that demonstrated Judge Woodlock’s points with classical and contemporary examples. The keynote ended with a brief opening of the floor to questions from the audience. The text of the judge’s remarks will be made available soon on this blog.

After the judge’s presentation, the main business of the evening was transacted. Mr. Margolis, along with chapter Vice President Sheldon Kostelecky and fellow board member and treasurer Susan Close disbursed the five awards to their winners. Their work, flashed on screen and graced by quotations from the jury’s ruminations, brought the appropriate oo’s and ahh’s from a rapt audience. And then the ceremony was over, except for more knots of attendees discussing the ceremony, and of course dispensing with what remained of the fabulous food.

A roster of the winners may be found here. What follows are photographs of the event. Soon they will be updated with captions naming the people they depict, but in the interest of interest, the shots are being posted right away, straight up. Here they are:

Betty Moore, of New England Home, and Chapter President John Margolis

Keynote speaker Judge Douglas Woodlock

Bob Gryzwacz, grand prize winner, and Chapter Vice President Sheldon Kostelecky

ICAA President Paul Gunther

Mr. Margolis making introductions

Chapter board member John Tittmann of Albert, Righter & Tittmann

Judge Woodlock delivers his keynote

Victoria Sims and chapter member Steven Spandle

Lisa Curran, Susan Corr and Tina Ferrara of sponsor Waterworks

Barbara Sallick, president of Waterworks, and Mr. Margolis

Mr. Spandle, Raffi Berberian and Ms. Sims

?, Ms. Moore and independent writer Mary Shepard, of Middletown, R.I.

? and Devin Hefferon, of Gregory Lombardi Landscape Architecture

William Buckingham, Mary Ballard, T.H., ? and James Carver

?, Jessica Macara, ? and ?

Mr. Tittmann, Mr. Gunther and Mr. Margolis

Brooks Truesdale, Michael Carter, chapter board member Patrick Hickox, Kyle Hoepner

? and Mr. Buckingham

Ann Prince and John Adam

Mr. Gryzwacz, Ms. Curran and Ms. Corr

Alan Wall, of Tradewind Windows, and Ted Cunningham, of Windover Construction (sponsors)

?, ?, ? and ?

? and ?

?, Jessica Macara and chapter treasurer Susan Close

?, Devin Hefferon and ?

Kara Dowley, Adam Bonosky, Gregory Lombardi and Kristina Eldrenkamp

?, ? and Susan Parker, of Waterworks

Mr. Wall, Robert MacNeille and ?

Winners of the Bulfinch for grand prize and in five categories

The chapter board on the Grand Staircase, with Mr. Gunther and ICAA director Jan Gleysteen

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The ceremony honoring the winners of the second annual Bulfinch Awards takes place tomorrow, Wednesday evening, at 6. Attendees will meet at the Grand Staircase of the Massachusetts State House, where the keynote speaker will be Judge Douglas Woodlock, who helped write design guidelines for the federal court system.

The award recognizes the regional accomplishment of work in classical architecture and allied arts. Charles Bulfinch was the architect of the State House and led the early aesthetic improvements that helped turn Boston into a great American city. He later worked on the U.S. Capitol.

Admission at the door is $100, and if the food this year is as succulent as last year, then honoring classicism in New England will definitely please oral as well as ocular tastes.

The second annual Bulfinch Awards will be celebrated and dispensed in just over three weeks. The ceremony at the Massachusetts State House, designed in the 1790s by Charles Bulfinch, will be an important step toward institutionalizing a new custom in the world of architecture. The five winners, whose submissions are introduced below, carry classical work to the next level in the practice of New England traditional design.

The keynote speaker this year will be U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock, known for his assistance in developing design guidelines for the U.S. court system. As it happens, courthouse design represents among the more promising avenues for classicists, compared, say, to museums or college academic buildings. The law is a more fruitful environment for the application of principle, or so one might imagine. It will be interesting to hear what Judge Woodlock has to say.

Reservations for the evening’s festivities may be made here. Reserve now and save $25, as the cost of $75 for ICAA members, members of the Boston Society of Architects, and employees of professional ICAA member firms rises on Nov. 14 to $100, the outlay for the general public.

And here are this year’s Bulfinch Award winners:

Grand Prize:
Civic: Restoration of Waterbury City Hall
by DeCarol & Doll, Inc.of Meriden, Conn.
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Best Urban Residence: Back Bay Townhouse
by Dell Mitchell Architects of Boston, Mass.
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Best Suburban Residence: Greek Revival Residence
by Jan Gleysteen Architects, Inc. of Wellesley, Mass.

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Landscape: Georgian Country Estate
by Gregory Lombardi Design of Cambridge, Mass.

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Interiors: Chestnut Hill Residence

by Carter & Company Interior Design of Boston, Mass.

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The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art would like to extend a Special Thanks to our Sponsors for their Generous Support:
Tradewood Windows & Doors
Waterworks
Haddonstone
Restore Media
Elwin Designs

Click here for more information about the November 30 Awards event.

To view 2010 Winners, click here 
To view 2010 submission requirements, click here.

By David Brussat
Thursday, October 6, 2011

This week, the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art announces the winners of the New England chapter’s second annual Bulfinch Awards. These five examples of the classical in art and architecture show a refined appreciation of how the principles of classicism beautify and ennoble the past and the future. This region of the nation, so graced by the hand of history on its heritage, appreciates the new classical revival more, perhaps, than her sister regions. With this awards program the chapter takes pride in its role as a leading proponent of a movement that seeks to return art and architecture to their central influence on the quality of civic life in the region and the country as a whole.

The winners of this year’s Bulfinches will be honored on Wednesday, Nov. 30 at the Massachusetts Statehouse designed by Charles Bulfinch, whose work transformed New England’s capital into a city whose look would increasingly reflect its greatness. The victorious entries will be on display in the Statehouse’s Doric Hall for five days, Nov. 28-Dec. 2. Visit the link following your scroll through the pictorial display of the five winning entries.
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Grand Prize:
Civic: Restoration of Waterbury City Hall
by DeCarol & Doll, Inc.of Meriden, Conn.
* * *
Best Urban Residence: Back Bay Townhouse
by Dell Mitchell Architects of Boston, Mass.
* * *
Best Suburban Residence: Greek Revival Residence
by Jan Gleysteen Architects, Inc. of Wellesley, Mass.

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Landscape: Georgian Country Estate
by Gregory Lombardi Design of Cambridge, Mass.

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Interiors: Chestnut Hill Residence

by Carter & Company Interior Design of Boston, Mass.

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The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art would like to extend a Special Thanks to our Sponsors for their Generous Support:
Tradewood Windows & Doors
Waterworks
Haddonstone
Restore Media
Elwin Designs

Click here for more information about the November 30 Awards event.

To view 2010 Winners, click here
To view 2010 submission requirements, click here.

By David Brussat

September 25, 2011

The photograph shows Wednesday night’s speaker standing on the grave of founding modernist Le Corbusier. Is Malcolm Millais smiling? Was he about to kick the concrete tomb? He looks harmless enough. But his book “Exploding the Myths of Modern Architecture” takes no prisoners. It was probably a mistake to allow him anywhere near the tomb of the still-reigning hero of modern architecture and erstwhile destroyer of Paris.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Millais will use his professional familiarity with engineering – he is a structural engineer himself – to put modernism’s shoddy definition of architectural “utility” on display at the Algonquin Club, 217 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. The provocatively illustrated talk, for which you may register here, is sponsored by the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art. Seats are $25 in advance for members of the ICAA, the Boston Society of Architects and the Algonquin Club, and $35 at the door. The festivities begin at 6.

Malcolm Millais’s friend and fellow architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros, a mathematician at the University of Texas, San Antonio, joins the author of this blog in having written a review of “Exploding the Myths.” This blogger has written several columns about Mr. Salingaros and his theories linking human biology to a preference for traditional and classical architecture. The Salingaros review of “Exploding” may be read here. The book itself may be purchased here.

Wednesday is sure to be an evening for rattling cages and raising rafters.

By David Brussat

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art will host a lecture on Wednesday, Sept. 28, in Boston, by Malcolm Millais, the British structural engineer whose most recent book is Exploding the Myths of Modern Architecture. The event, entitled “From Master to Servant: The Rise and Fall of the Structural Engineer,” will begin at 6:30, followed by a book signing. Tickets cost $35 ($25 for members of the ICAA and the Boston Society of Architects) for the evening at the Algonquin Club, 217 Commonwealth Ave. Reservations can be made here.

Mr. Millais will discuss how the practice of architecture and the practice of engineering have switched their relationship to each other over the past century or so. Architecture historically relied upon engineering to set the parameters within which buildings could be designed. Today, all has changed. Architects imagine the most far-fetched structures, bringing to that task little awareness, or care, that buildings must obey the laws of physics. Engineers, who long told architects how far they could push the envelope, are now expected to twist the laws of physics so that architects who push beyond the envelope will not be embarrassed by a building collapse. For performing what amount to miracles, engineers are expected to be satisified with the sloppy seconds of architects’ fame and fortune.

Mr. Millais rightly feels aggrieved by this turnabout in the relations of engineer and architect. He will entertain his audience at the Algonquin Club with chapter and verse about how the relationship often fails to result in successful buildings. That we do not often hear of buildings falling down for structural reasons testifies to the talent engineers bring to their profession. That we do not often hear of every other type of failure so common among “modern masterpieces” testifies to the sophisticated PR machine that architecture has set up to protect itself from its own inadequacy.

Listeners will emerge from the evening with a renewed appreciation for why contemporary classicism’s revival must continue if architecture is ever again to create a built environment that contributes to the physical, aesthetic and spiritual progress of mankind in this world.

Mr. Millais will show many images illustrating the good, the bad and the ugly of engineering and architecture yesterday and today. He speaks with an English accent, and with a sharp wit. Expect to be as entertained as you are enlightened. The author will be signing books, but not selling them. You may read it by purchasing it here (byob to have it famously inscribed!) You may read a review of it written in 2009 by the author of this post here.

By Crystal Olin

June 15, 2011

Dateline: Melbourne

[Ms. Olin, a graduate of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture who worked at Albert, Righter & Tittmann, in Boston, was elected to the chapter’s board this spring but “complex life circumstances made it good and necessary” for Ms. Olin to move to Australia. She has kindly sent this reflection on Boston and Melbourne, her new home. In each set of photographs, the left is of Melbourne and the right of Boston.]

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What we build is a microcosm for larger truths about our culture and how we perceive of ourselves in the world.  Some of these truths are ugly, and some are beautiful.  Either way, what we build is a vivid reflection of who we are.  Sometimes it is difficult to see ourselves clearly when viewing our reflection; we are not always honest with the lighting and rendering.  So what if we could, as Alice did, step through the looking glass and see ourselves from a different angle?  What if everything in this reflected world were deeply familiar, yet slightly off in one way or another, so as to help us re-evaluate what is what?  And what if, upon examining the details of this different world, we came to a better understanding of our own reflection and identity?

As an American living in Australia, I often feel as if I have stepped through the looking glass.

For perspective, it is quite easy for me to consider Australia as a mirror reflection of America.  The seasons are flipped, and so are the regions.  As you go south, the climate gets colder and people move faster.  Southerners tend to be more culturally liberal and inhabit older, denser cities.  Northerners tend to be more conservative, and one might be reminded of Texas when traveling through Queensland.  America’s Northeast is Australia’s Southeast – the hub of culture, fine arts, public transport, and urban identity.  Indeed, my new home Melbourne reflects some of the same characteristics and urban sensibilities as my old home Boston: both harken back to their early days of European settlement, and both cities are visibly and vocally proud of this heritage.

In the course of my adventures through this Wonderland-like world that is Melbourne and not quite Boston,  I find myself asking this question: What, fundamentally, makes a city American?  Let me note here that both cities are quite compact and walkable, as well as architecturally and spatially intact.  This makes them all the more appropriate to consider because, unlike many of their neighbors, they have not been gorged, stripped, or disemboweled to the extent that their civic realm is indistinct.  It is not easy to maintain an identity in the modern age of global ubiquity.  Boston is to America what Melbourne is to Australia: a bit of a modern day anomaly, but central in the identity of its nation.

So, what makes a city American?  If it is true that cities are a microcosm for larger truths about humanity, and that we are best able to understand these truths when they are made tactile to us, then it logically follows that we may best be able to discern what is American or Australian by examining the ornament of a particular place.  In fact, I am observing that this is what makes Melbourne unique and distinct from its neighbors and Boston as well.  Ornament articulates the beauty inherent in a place and thereby gives that place its identity.  This does not happen merely through an array of styles, but through application of the universal principles of Classical architecture that have responded and adapted to each project’s complex and subtle array of challenges in its unique place and time.  If we remember Alberti’s treatise on the Art of Building, we are reminded that the principal ornament of any city is its order – the siting, layout, composition, and arrangement of its public spaces and buildings – and that the principal ornament of any building is the column, from which local order is derived.  In this way, ornament shapes our world: it carries forward the past, gestures toward the future, articulates the spaces we inhabit, and reminds us of our place in the world.  Perhaps the Italian writer Italo Calvino said it best in his book Invisible Cities.  The city does not tell its past or scream its own name, “but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps … every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.”

I have photographed some comparative examples of American and Australian ornament, taken from the public spaces and buildings of Boston and Melbourne, and born of the living language of architecture that is rooted in the Classical tradition.  (In these photos, Melbourne is always on the left and Boston on the right.)  In examining these examples and being mindful of their differences, we may find a renewed sense of what it means to live and build in a particular place and in a particular way, be it America or Australia.  We may also ponder what many of our modern cities are lacking.  Why is it so rare, for example, to encounter a civic realm with distinction today?  Could our understanding and appreciation of ornament help shape the cities of our future?  Furthermore, could this ornament order our world in a way that helps us better shape our own reflection and identity?

Just as Alice stepped through the looking glass to find herself examining the most curious details of her reflection, so too am I doing this as an American in Australia.  Alice returned to her home with a renewed sense of purpose and maturity.  She saw what generated the ornament of her world behind the flat reflection that was so familiar to her, and this changed her.  Whether we leave our home to view our reflection from a different angle, or whether we come to understand larger truths about humanity though examining the corners of our streets and gratings of our windows, I hope we soon return to the tradition of building with a renewed sense of identity, purpose, and maturity.