Posts tagged ‘Peabody Terrace’

Sorry to Send You To Harvard With Unhappy Thoughts

I was looking at the searches that brought visitors to Coyote Blog, and in August and early September I had a surge of folks searching Peabody Terrace.   This seemed odd.  Then I realized that this must be young grad students who have been assigned Peabody Terrace as their housing and want to learn about it.  I feel bad that I have to spoil some of their anticipation, but this is what they will find on my site:

And, in case you are one who supports government "redevelopment" and mandates on aesthetics but think that it would all work out fine if architectural experts and committees of academics made the decisions, here is the hideous Peabody Terrace at Harvard University, presumably vetted by the finest architectural academic minds in the country:

Peabody

These buildings, where Harvard stuck me for a full year, were transported right out of East Berlin, right down to the elevators that only stopped on every third floor for efficiency sake (efficiency of the builder, obviously, not the occupant).  The interior walls were bare cast concrete and no amount of heat could warm them in the winter.  It was the most depressing place, bar none, I have every lived.  But the "experts" loved them, and wished that this vision could have been forced by urban planners on all of America:

Leland Cott, an adjunct professor of urban design at the [Harvard] GSD, calls Peabody Terrace 'a model of design efficiency, economy, and attention to scale.'

Fortunately, someone gets it:

The magazine Architecture Boston has focused attention on the controversial aspects of Sert's work by devoting its July/August 2003 issue to an examination of Peabody Terrace, expressing the essential disagreement about the work in the form of a stark conundrum: "Architects love Peabody Terrace. The public hates it."

In fact, the public's hostility to the structures may be in proportion to its degree of proximity, with the most intense feelings confined to those households on the front lines of the town/gown divide....

Otile McManus, in a companion essay, discusses the reactions of many Cambridge residents, who have described the complex as "monstrous," "cold," "uninviting," "overwhelming," and "hostile," and have compared it to Soviet housing.

Actually, the most intense feeling were by those who lived there, who really, really hated it  (though I will admit there were several third world students who loved it -- must have been nostalgic for them).  The article goes on to accuse detractors of being anti-modernist.  Which is a laugh, since my house is one of the most starkly modern in the area, so modern I could not sell it several years ago.  I am not anti-modern.  I am anti-bad-design.

Wow!  I am kindof amazed at the hostility I still feel fifteen years after the fact.  I had started out just to link TJIC's post, and here I am in full-blown rant mode.  Sorry.

A blogger once described the Boston City Hall as "a poured concrete Vogon love poem."  I wish I had said that about Peabody Terrace.

The other thing excited, young Harvard grad students might find at my site is an excerpt from my novel.  This portion is entirely autobiographical (except for not being a girl) and describes my year at Peabody Terrace.

Using Copyrights and Trademarks to Duck Accountability and Criticism

There is an ever-present effort among corporations, government officials, and public figures to suppress criticism.  A new tool in this war on speech is the trademark or copyright, where folks argue that criticism that uses even their name is somehow in violation of intellectual property protections.

Of course, this is all so much BS, and courts have been pretty good about protecting speech in these circumstances, but the need for vigilance never goes away.  Example

There's plenty of genuine trademark and copyright piracy out there: people trying to make money off of other people's work, or enjoy it for free. But increasingly, copyrights and trademarks are used by their owners, with the assistance of thuggish lawyers, as weapons to suppress satire, criticism, and comment. We've discussed the trend here before — Forever 21's embarrassing attack on a humor site,Ralph Lauren threatening lawsuits against people who comment on its freakish photoshops of models,Meghan McCain's attempt to use the California "right of publicity" to suppress parody of her awful writing, the TSA attempting to criminalize use of its logo,scummy telemarketers arguing that people criticizing them are violating the trademark in their name, andthe Guinness World Records people reacting to a hilarious screenshot with trademark threats. [Now that I look at it, I think we need a tag for this.] Sometimes the copyright and trademark thuggery goes meta, as whenjackass attorneys send cease-and-desist letters, claim copyright in the letters, and threaten suit if they are released and discussed.

The rest is worth reading, written in Ken's, uh,  trademark style that is both informative and enjoyable.  Like Ken, I have to confess to a deep befuddlement as to the appeal of Louis Vuitton gear, which generally look like brown Hefty bags with a pattern printed on it.  Why someone would go to the effort of copying them seems as odd to me as building a replica of the Peabody Terrace apartments where I used to live in Boston.

 

A Well-Deserved Honor

Boston City Hall as the world's ugliest building.  I would add an honorable mention to Boston's Peabody Terrace, the ugliest building I have ever lived in.

What A Great Line

A friend of Megan McArdle calls the Boston city hall "a poured concrete Vogon love poem.  What a great line, and entirely appropriate of a hideous example of public architecture.  But I would have singled out a different Boston structure, the Peabody Terrace Apartments at Harvard.

Since this is the last time I may be hitting the theme of Vogon poetry for a while, I laughed the other day on a course on the Roman emperers when the professor said that Nero would force the upper class to attend his musical and poetry performances, and that some invitees where known to fake death to try to escape.

Legislating Taste

TJIC has a good example of relying on the government to legislate taste.

More than 30 years after outlawing big flashing signs"¦
Boston wants to bring back some glitz to parts of town deemed too dark
and staid at night.

It's a good thing we've got a single monopolistic authority making aesthetic decisions for everyone.

Saying it wants colorful electronic marquees to create an
atmosphere like Times Square in New York, the Boston Redevelopment
Authority is planning to amend the city's zoning code to permit
electronic signs that make "bold use of graphics" and create a sense of
"animation and motion" and "images that engage the public."

So, basically, the rationale 30 years ago was "some bureaucrat
finds these tacky, so they're forbidden", and now the rationale is
"some bureaucrat likes these, so they're encouraged".

This from the city of Boston, whose government's sense of aesthetics dropped this butt-ugly eyesore of a city hall into the middle of historic downtown Boston:

Govcenter

And, in case you are one who supports government "redevelopment" and mandates on aesthetics but think that it would all work out fine if architectural experts and committees of academics made the decisions, here is the hideous Peabody Terrace at Harvard University, presumably vetted by the finest architectural academic minds in the country:

Peabody

These buildings, where Harvard stuck me for a full year, were transported right out of East Berlin, right down to the elevators that only stopped on every third floor for efficiency sake (efficiency of the builder, obviously, not the occupant).  The interior walls were bare cast concrete and no amount of heat could warm them in the winter.  It was the most depressing place, bar none, I have every lived.  But the "experts" loved them, and wished that this vision could have been forced by urban planners on all of America:

Leland Cott, an adjunct professor of
urban design at the [Harvard] GSD, calls Peabody Terrace 'a model of design
efficiency, economy, and attention to scale.'

Fortunately, someone gets it:

The magazine Architecture Boston has focused attention on the
controversial aspects of Sert's work by devoting its July/August 2003
issue to an examination of Peabody Terrace, expressing the essential
disagreement about the work in the form of a stark conundrum:
"Architects love Peabody Terrace. The public hates it."

In fact, the public's hostility to the structures may be in
proportion to its degree of proximity, with the most intense feelings
confined to those households on the front lines of the town/gown divide....

Otile McManus, in a companion essay, discusses the reactions of many
Cambridge residents, who have described the complex as "monstrous,"
"cold," "uninviting," "overwhelming," and "hostile," and have compared
it to Soviet housing.

Actually, the most intense feeling were by those who lived there, who really, really hated it  (though I will admit there were several third world students who loved it -- must have been nostalgic for them).  The article goes on to accuse detractors of being anti-modernist.  Which is a laugh, since my house is one of the most starkly modern in the area, so modern I could not sell it several years ago.  I am not anti-modern.  I am anti-bad-design.

Wow!  I am kindof amazed at the hostility I still feel fifteen years after the fact.  I had started out just to link TJIC's post, and here I am in full-blown rant mode.  Sorry.

Good Freaking Luck

Harvard has a new president.  Good freaking luck.  That job chewed up someone I respected (Neal Rudenstine) and someone who tried to reform the institution (Larry Sommers).  I would rather try to bring good government to Haiti than try to run that dysfunctional organization in Cambridge.  Premiers of the Soviet Union had less power than the Harvard faculty wields.  I am one of many Harvard graduate students I know who appreciate the education we got but hate the institution.  My Princeton roomie Brink Lindsey helped start the NOPE campaign - Not One Penny Ever (to Harvard).

If you want a taste of why, below the fold I have included an excerpt of a chapter from my book BMOC (still at Amazon for those who have not used up their Christmas gift certificates yet).  This chapter is pretty autobiographical, except for the part where the character is, you know, a girl.

From the end of Chapter 8 of BMOC:

Susan looked around her small apartment in the nightmare that was the Peabody Terrace apartments, a pair of Harvard-owned hi-rise apartments located across the river from the business school.  Susan was convinced that these apartments were part of a 1950's Soviet plot to undermine America's youth.  The building design was right out of East Berlin, with its all cast concrete construction.  Even the interior walls were concrete, giving it the warmth and ambiance of a World War II German pillbox.  Her tower had an elevator, but it only stopped on every third floor, a cost saving measure also borrowed from the East Germans.  Of course, her floor was not one of the stops.  

She had dithered about whether even to apply to Harvard, and had applied in the last application group, after most of the spots in the school had already been filled.  She was not actually accepted into the school until well into June, leaving her just about dead last in the housing lottery.  Only a few foreign students from strange, lesser developed countries she had barely heard of were so far back in the room queue, which helped to explain why her entryway was always choked with the smell of bizarre foods cooking using unfamiliar spices.  Her walk to and from school involved crossing a lonely and poorly lighted footbridge, which was, coincidently, the coldest spot in New England on most winter days.

Whenever she walked into her building, she had difficulty fighting off a sense of despair and loneliness, even despite her generally sunny disposition.  The building was that depressing.  To make matters worse, she had spent most of the winter fighting with the Harvard administrative departments over the temperature in her room. She had complained nearly every day about the cold, and knew things were bad when frost started to form on the inside of her windows.  A worker from building services had finally come by, but instead of a toolbox he brought a thermometer, which he placed in the center of the room and just stared at for five minutes.  Then he picked it up, looked at it, and declared that the room was fine.

"Fine?" she had screamed.  "How can it be fine?  It's freezing in here!"

"Mam, the thermometer says 54 degrees.  State law says we don't have to do anything unless it falls below 50 degrees," observed the housing guy.

"State law?!  Who gives a shit about state law?  What about customer service?  What about the sixty grand I pay to this university?"

But she had gotten nowhere, at least until she started putting the oven on broil with the door open to try to keep the room warm.  Once the building services folks saw that, with all the implicit fire and liability dangers, her radiator had finally been fixed.

Looking around the cold and depressing room, she decided she definitely did not want to be here now.  She wanted to celebrate her new job, not stare at four bare condensate-dampened concrete walls.