Making Places

What do architects do when they travel?

Mostly we look at buildings.

We want to see something wonderful, beautiful, different. We want to see how problems were solved in elegant ways, or how materials were detailed. We want to be inspired.

The Boston Public Library, by Charles McKim.
Photo copyright 2018 David Locicero

I was in Boston for a day recently. I had the morning to myself, so I went for a long walk that included the Boston Public Library. The original building was designed by Charles McKim, of the storied firm MicKim, Mead and White. It is a beautiful building designed in the Beaux Arts manner.

I was particularly taken, on this visit, by these alcoves on the mid landings of the grand entry stair.

Alcoves in the grand stair of the Boston Public Library.
Photo copyright 2018 David Locicero

They are lovely places to pause. You can sit, look out at the courtyard, or watch the passing parade of people up and down the stairs. They are quiet in a busy place, but not separated from the busy place.

The grand stair at the Boston Public Library as seen from one of the alcoves.
Photo copyright 2018 David Locicero

I found that it was a good place to check my email and gaze at the amazing stair, and people watch. It reminded me that functional things – like stairs – are places and experiences as well. We need to remember that they can be more than ways to get from floor to floor. Being able to pause on that journey up or down, look out, maybe chat with a friend, or wait for our date, is a wonderful thing.

These alcoves, there are two, one on each of the mid-landings, are places, distinct from and part of the grand stair, itself a place. Stopping here and studying the stair reminded me of the importance of making places that are not necessarily part of the function, but are part of living – enriching the experience of a place.

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