Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bulfinch's Crescent, an urban building

Becket, December 16, 2012

One last note (at least for now) about Bulfinch's crescent:

Franklin Place is a building conceived in urban terms.  What do we mean by that?  No, we don't mean that the building responds to, respects or follows its urban context.  Nothing wrong with that, but buildings such as Bulfinch's crescent do something else: they have a foundational role in the city.  Through their massing, form, scale, position, orientation, even style and material, they establish a new order, a new direction for an area of the city.

Look at this 1794 sketch by Jeremy Belknap--the Boston historian and pastor of the neighboring Federal Street Church,--perhaps the first map including the crescent, just completed the year before.  When Bulfinch sets out to work on his project, the site is in the middle of a large block extending between Milk and Summer streets.  Largely a pasture (labeled "d'Acosta's Pasture in earlier maps,) the curving row of attached houses turns it into one of the most urban addresses in town.  Later it will turn become Franklin Street.  Also, the arched passageway at the center of the crescent gives origin to a second, transversal, street, that appears in Belknap's sketch simply as "New Street" and will eventually be named, you can guess it, Arch Street.

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