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.
Another tribute to the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse in Cambridge, discussed in the previous post. Again, my interest is not to suggest a possible renovation or provide an alternative, but rather to experiment with its basic forms and work within an approximation of its site and program. And once more it is designed to provide a home to public or creative efforts—say an architecture department. I wanted a basic building that has some interest but, like the warehouse, appears rough and incomplete, that might invite completion, exploration, or reaction—as I argue for the warehouse in that post—and that doesn’t try to upstage or direct the work inside.
There is no substitute for the real thing. Age, wear, the historical style, the odd embellishments, the imperfections, the rough mass of the original—these cannot be reproduced in a model or an actual construction. Ensamble proposed a renovation that respects the integrity of the exterior of the original building while adapting the interior for the needs of the MIT SA+P. Their proposal can be found here.
I’m trying to imagine walking up Vassar Street alongside the Metropolitan Storage Warehouse, the minute or so that would take. Ahead, the corner tower a story higher; above, elaborate cornice work, reaching out, lifting up, dividing in crenelation. Further on, circular windows, arches, and stars of decoration. Beyond the tower, the main campus of MIT.
But the tower is distant, the embellishments high or few and faint. What I am most aware of from the ground is the continuing mass of brick pierced by small windows, its texture, its endless division, its warm color—the fact of brick itself, its presence, dominant for well over 500 feet.