Boston Sunday Globe on Walter Pierce and Architecture at UMass


The Globe today covers two subjects near and dear to my heart. Bryan Marquard has written a nice tribute to Walter Pierce, including links to our 2011 interview with him for this site.

In the Ideas section of same edition is a very interesting article by Max Page about the architecture of the University of Massachusetts’ Amherst campus, where I spent 4.5 idyllic years as a student (plus a couple of more on either side of that period just sort of, um, hanging out). Page is a professor or architecture and history at the campus, which features buildings from a who’s-who of 1960s/’70s modern architects, at least two of whom lived at some point in Lexington: renowned landscape architect Hideo Sasaki (who had a house in Five Fields) provided the master plan for expansion,  and Hugh Stubbins, who designed the Southwest residential area. One-time Lincoln-based Bauhaus co-founder, Marcel Breuer, designed the Campus Center. And arguably most striking is the Kevin Roche-designed Fine Arts Center, where I saw many great shows, including Elvis Costello solo, the dBs opening for REM, and a Sam Shepard play or two. The FAC forms a gateway to the campus, but the legendary/infamous DuBois Library tower, designed by Edward Durell Stone, provides the most imposing presence at the campus.

There is a whole lot of Brutalist concrete mixed in with the wanna-be brick and ivy found on typical New England campuses. It was great for skateboarding, if nothing else. But Umass Amherst remains immediately identifiable because of such architecture and I tend to agree with the viewpoint described by Mr. Page in his article:

In our age, when the very notion of government’s role in social betterment is under attack, UMass buildings from the golden age of public higher education stand for a faith in the public sphere. It’s possible to look at the library and see only the chips that once fell from bricks in the upper story, or think about its history of out-of-service elevators. But it’s also possible to stand in awe at the idealism of building the world’s tallest library, open to anyone, 24 hours a day. The Fine Arts Center represents a moving decision to ask one of the premier architects of the day to design first-class art, music, and theater spaces for the sons and daughters of working men and women of Massachusetts. Who today would even dare to design—as Roche did for the Fine Arts Center—a 646-foot-long bridge of studio art space, and raise it up 30 feet from the ground to create a monumental gateway for a campus?