Friday, December 14, 2012

Bulfinch's Crescent, more

Cambridge, December 14, 2012

When Bulfinch designed Franklin Place--also known as "Tontine Crescent" due to its financing mechanism--his visit to Bath, England, was still fresh in his mind.  It is as if he would have taken the model of Wood's first residential scheme for Bath, Queen Square, and infused it with the curvature of the later, much larger Royal Crescent.  He even placed a pedestal with an urn memorializing Benjamin Franklin (who had died only a few years earlier) at the center of the semi-oval, very much like the obelisk in the middle of Queen Square.

The project is rather elaborate but remarkably simple: 16 attached row houses following an attenuated curve, with a passageway in the center and slightly projecting volumes at the ends.  Dwellings are paired, with each pair taking three bays.  The middle bay is split longitudinally with entrances, hallways, stairs and kitchens for each unit and the outer bays with large, well proportioned rooms facing front and back.  At the center of the crescent, Bulfinch places a taller pavilion with an arched passageway at street level and two much larger spaces for institutional uses above.  He brings the last pair of dwellings at each end just a few feet forward to help them gain their singularity.  The rest of the dwellings form a continuous fa├žade, with the separation between pairs barely marked by drainpipes and chimneys.

When Franklin Place was demolished in 1858, large blocks of attached buildings were the norm in Boston.  But check again the 1814 map and you'll see that at the beginning of the century Boston was a city of small detached structures and Bulfinch's crescent was the first and only group of attached dwellings.

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