The owners of 211 Warren Street, who are planning to build a new structure on the footprint of the building that was demolished last October, met with the Historic Preservation Commission on Friday in a workshop session to discuss the design for the new building. The following renderings were presented to the HPC for consideration and discussion.
In the discussion of the proposed design, the word most often used by HPC members to describe it was jarring. HPC member John Schobel noted that the design of the building overall did an excellent job of achieving appropriate scale but suggested that "the steel element is going to look disruptive." Architect member Kate Johns agreed that adding the corten steel "makes it not compatible."
Elaborating on the subject of compatibility, Johns spoke about the need for differentiation to avoid slavish imitation of historic buildings and creating a kind of Disneyland but noted that the thinking about compatibility "is moving away from the idea that differentiation necessarily means modern." She cautioned that differentiation should not mean "incongruous appearance" or "ruptured integrity" and spoke of "continuity of character through time." She also suggested that the concern should not be for creating "architecture of our time" but for creating "architecture of place." She maintained that "Warren Street is not a place to make a statement." Schobel concurred, saying of Warren Street, "It's a place to apply our most rigorous standard of compatibility."
HPC chair Phil Forman started the discussion by saying, "Modern introduces a complexity because there is not a dictionary [of architectural style], yet there is still a sense of place," and later told his colleagues, "We don't have to take the code as a trap. There is room to interpret the sense of place." He expressed the opinion that, in terms of disrupting the streetscape, the proposed design was "nothing compared with the Polenbergs' orange house."
The workshop concluded with the applicants being asked by Forman to ruminate on what had been said and "come back with what you want." HPC member Hugh Biber asked, "Is there a way to come back with a few alternative solutions?" The applicants indicated they would be agreeable to that.
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