Monday, December 10, 2012

Bulfinch's Boston, the Triangle

Cambridge, December 10, 2012

Charles Bulfinch was an exquisite urban designer.  Look at the way he filled Boston's Mill Pond.  A lesser designer would have been happy with a reasonable grid, more or less connect with the surrounding fabric.  Instead, Bulfinch introduces a large, district-size equilateral triangle as a starting point for his project (do you realize how difficult it is to start with no 90-degree angles if you're going to draw a rectangular grid?!)  Now, the genius of the architect is to align one of the sides with the old dam and establish this line at the water's edge as the orientation for his grid.  Yes, completely independent from the existing geometries of the city (not that they were that geometric to begin with.)

Then he has to deal with the area inside the triangle.  First he draws a wide street perpendicular to the water line and exactly at the center. It lands effortlessly at the end of Union Street as it arches south towards downtown.  He has to keep Mill Creek connected to the inner bay so he runs a canal at the edge of his main avenue.  Yes, that's Canal Street. Next he draws a street at right angles (he simply labels it Transversal Street) connecting east and west with the same apparent ease. Bulfinch reserves the two wedge-shaped blocks at the inner tip of the triangle for a market (Haymarket.) After that, he articulates a grid of elongated rectangular blocks with as many streets ending at the water as he possibly can.  The rest is simply filling the area between the triangle and the old fabric.  If you really want to get a glimpse at the difficulty of the whole thing, just look how much larger is the area to the east (right) of the triangle.  That's the wrinkle you could say, showing how deliberately, and carefully, Bulfinch had deployed his initial figure.

No comments :

Post a Comment