© 2015 Jeffrey Mansfield

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Pilgrimage

 

Pilgrimage is a proposal for a performing arts center in Boston adjacent to Paul Rudolph’s Government Services Center (1962-1971) that seeks to revive the troubled project of brutalism, with its ethos of raw functional rationalism through the stark articulation of building systems, circulation flows, programmatic volumes, and scale. The unapologetic monumentality of Government Services Center failed partially because the large-scale urban renewal efforts evicted the site of its once-flourishing social fabric and isolated itself inside a ring of urban walls.  Mostly, it failed because its impenetrable envelope muted the post-Fordist, cybernetic theater of inputs, outputs, and circulation flows that are part and parcel to brutalist architecture.

 

This project proposes two theatrical volumes organized around an armature of columns and cores and oriented to maximize visibility along Merrimac St. and from the elevated plaza.  A double-layered structural shell consisting of an exterior louvered screen and a double-glazed skin on the interior layer loosely envelops the two theatrical volumes, resulting in void spaces where back-of-house activities intersect with front-of-house functions, blurring the boundary between public and private. This transparent envelope further exploits the dual performativity of the theater archetype by revealing both the on-stage performance and the secondary, rational performance of back-of-house activities that occur in the void space, which becomes stage-like and presents itself to the city alongside the actual stages. Finally, a dormitory for visiting artists hovers above the existing building, providing a focal counter to the theatrical volumes and allows the architecture to resist a static rendering of its relationship to the city. These volumes, appearing to float and organize activities around them, become dynamic monuments that tempt the inhabitants of the city to venture into the defined yet ambiguous space of the building, and circulate around it, as in a ritual pilgrimage.

 

Critic: Eric Höweler