We have little expectation of a warehouse other than it serve its intended purpose. When we get something extra—surface texture, a distinctive style, embellishment—either we are rewarded with an unexpected bonus for the eye, to the mind, a distinguishing mark in context, signs in history—or see standing in relief an attention that is unnecessary, out of joint, and insignificant before the largeness of the structure, meaningless against the bareness of its function. When the warehouse ceases to be a place of storage, we are left with those stranded efforts, a huge mass, and the vast, empty space within of halted function. One set of unanswered questions has been dropped to open up other sets with more questions, no more likely to be answered. Here there is potential that cannot be contained by structure or defined by style.
Like my previous efforts, this one is not an attempt to suggest a possible renovation of the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse or provide a modern improvement. The Metropolitan cannot be improved and should be preserved as much as possible the way it is. For so many reasons an identical or similar expression referring to it cannot be created, one of which is its age and wear, for which there are no substitutes. Nor can there be a modern equivalent or analog. We don’t think or build that way anymore. Rather this is another exploration that picks up some of its elements and those of my other efforts to create a different building, more in keeping with our times, that works within a different framework, a different set of assumptions, that at the same time questions frameworks and assumptions. The general goal is to create a building that has presence, that contains and gives suggestions, but otherwise is incomplete and open. What matters is what happens inside, what might yet be figured out.
It is longer than the previous two, about 350 feet, but still falls well short of the 500 feet of the original. I roughly keep the same site and casually suggest it might hold the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, but it could be put to other creative or civic uses.
At the corner before two major crossing streets, the main entry, diagonal, beneath a gridded box.
The esthetic challenge is to counter the monotony of the long horizontal line of the building. Here it is arrested with difference and interruptions. The general idea is to have five discrete, somewhat related but different elements—boxes the same size—separated by narrow glass columns that divide the boxes and provide access between them. Their differences might suggest variety and a division of efforts inside and provide separate identities for various departments or functions, the boxes lined up in a whole that contains them but has no compelling integration.
A is composed of cells of windows, a-a-b, divided down the middle, with b twice as wide as a. No cell repeats from one row to the next. The middle column stakes symmetry and the left side is reverse mirrored on the right. Overall there is an X-like character radiating from the center, but other patterns are suggested and none dominate. Order competes with unresolved variation. I was influenced by Archeground’s varied but more predictable design of the Dhaka International University Administrative Building.
Here, smaller windows in a regular grid, 5 x 5, within a greater mass that dominates and holds them in stasis yet within which they radiate their own energy within the grid in the tension and contrast between void and mass, small and large. This section is most influenced by major sections of the original warehouse, its long spans of brick and small windows where mass prevails. It may recall for some Aldo Rossi’s ossuary, but there is nothing funeral about it. Perhaps it is Rossi’s solid, orderly expression that contains but does not succumb to our darker thoughts. Mention of Rossi might give rise to a discussion of types, which here will be problematic.
Similar to A with the same elements and rules, but now three explicit vertical columns control. Overall, perhaps the figure of a pyramid is suggested or a stepped building or even a tree, but once more no pattern dominates.
B again, but this section slips into a degree of randomness in window size and placement, creating shifts and uneasiness—or a more dynamic tension.
The uneasiness is resolved in the corner, where all is light and reason. The 6 x 6 grid, like B’s, is completely regular, but E has large windows floor to ceiling, the windows framed by a different material with a different color that signals the corner and main entry, as well as anchors the building on the site.
It is not clear, however, what is resolved. While a similar grid determines each box, the variations are only suggestive and nothing is definite. Each could have been designed a different way, but no alternative would have been any more convincing or necessary. The eye moves to study each variation, but there is no progression to the corner. Rather any cumulative conclusion is arrested at each one. The building is an invitation to contemplate order and regularity, difference and variety, and complexity, randomness, and uncertainty. The tenets of modernism, the dream of the Cartesian grid persist, but we don’t know our relationship to them, what they might mean, whether they mean anything, whether they posit a control we want to have. This is where we are now, and with the uncertainty we keep our options open.
For all that, it is still a relatively simple and basic building compared with all that’s being built now. But that’s the point, to maintain the sense of basic things.
A has the same pattern on the other side, keeping its identity.
Solid, narrow walls stand on both ends, separated by the glass columns, contrasting with the grids and adding stability and the difference of solid mass.
They also announce and contain the other side.
The three parts on this side, regular, nearly even, and symmetrically arranged, stand against the five on the other side, suggesting unity and containment, though it is not clear what is unified or contained. This side does not resolve the other side, rather takes on a different tack.
The mass of the 5 x 9 brick sections flank
the center grid, which recalls the corner box on the other side. Centered there is recessed entry, two floors high. As in my other efforts and the planned renovation, this side looks out on a small courtyard and is more accessible on foot, linking it with the campus. Likely it would be the most used access. That on the other side provides a different experience, more formal.
Division of the five boxes is marked by skylights, visible on the fifth floor.
Three light wells with louvered tops extend through all floors for light and ventilation. I’m taking my cues from Ensamble’s proposal.
A possible floor plan, very rough. A central stairway, open all floors, rises to the roof between the other wells. The smaller windows at the back indicate small rooms that might be faculty offices, which would have more somber lighting that contrasts with the openness and light of the other areas. The medium-sized rooms at the front could be used as small classrooms, seminars, meeting areas, or offices. Throughout, open areas for movement, congregation, and interchange, especially at the back, before the large windows of the gray grid.
Or there could be larger rooms for larger classes, studios, presentations, and workshops. The two at the corners could be open two floors to provide high ceilings and greater space.
The first floor could be largely open, with parts enclosed for entry, offices, and service. The large open area could have temporary walls, arranged like a maze, that could be moved for exhibition or other temporary uses.
And the second floor could be open at the wells and stairs with galleries surrounding.
More could be done within to accent the separation and divisions, the different identities. The light wells could be altered and moved around, rooms shifted. The exterior calls for some kind of dynamic arrangement where symmetry competes with asymmetry. I’m fumbling because I don’t have a specific program to work with, and it would be a large, complex program.
Photograph of the warehouse by Jose Mandojana from Spectrum/MIT.