Avoiding Claustrophobia

I’d like to discuss another architectural element that is beloved (or at any rate, ubiquitous) but occasionally terrifying: exterior covered walkway.  Although it can be found everywhere in the world, it is fairly rare in America.  This is because most American cities have been designed or modified to accommodate cars above any other method of transportation.  Since covered walkways are designed for the convenience of pedestrian traffic, they are rare even in a city as old as Boston.  Recently, a renewed interest in sustainability, and a simultaneous desire to avoid high gas prices, has brought walking back into vogue.  However, unlike the Italians who have this technique down pat, American architects are still experimenting with how to design these passages to be friendly.   Mostly they end up cramped and dark, or over-sized and desolate.  Still, we persist.

Yesterday was the first nice day Boston’s had in a while.  It was bright, warmish, and lunchtime, which allowed foot traffic along the harbor walk at Fort Point Channel to be less desperate than normal in it’s speed.  I had met my friend for lunch, and the scenic route was the nicest way to get there from my office.  When I came to this passage way, I immediately began an internal analysis of how creepy the space was.  The results were mixed.  It was only one story high, and no effort to increase the the normal minimum floor to ceiling height of the first floor had been made.  My theory is that they were not allowed to impede the harbor walk, but still wanted to use as much of the lot as possible.  By pushing the exterior wall back 15′ on the first floor they were able to continue the harbor walk and still push the majority of the building right to the edge of the channel.  I feel like even a few feet would have made a big difference, but it was probably value engineered out.  It was somewhat bright because the reflection from the water below, and there was supplementing electric lighting, but on a gloomy day it would be less friendly.  Several large columns split the space but were staggered for reasons that I would need the building plans to induce. The views of the harbor were nice though, and in the summer it would probably be a nice place to eat lunch if they had put some sort of seating there.  But they didn’t so my guess is the building didn’t want people to linger (or to be blunt, for homeless people to sleep there).  As a case study, I’ve concluded that it was moderately successful considering it was still seeing decent traffic in the middle of February.  And that with a few improvements it could be quite pleasant.

Not the most notable of entries, but if you walking the harbor walk you're likely to be actively looking for the path.

Not the most notable of entries, but if you walking the harbor walk you’re likely to be actively looking for the path.

Historical plaque .  Always a nice touch.

Historical plaque . Always a nice touch.

You can see how the building just carved out the piece, incorporated the opening into the window grid

You can see how the building just carved out the piece, incorporated the opening into the window grid

Not horrifically dim, but you can see the spotlighting pretty clearly.

Not horrifically dim, but you can see the spotlighting pretty clearly.

Nice view of the harbor.  That dock is a water taxi, which people apparently use.

Nice view of the harbor. That dock is a water taxi, which people apparently use.

Creepiness rating is about a 5 during the day.

Creepiness rating is about a 5 during the day.

In the bright light, the contrast is strong.  But once your eye's adjust it's fine.

In the bright light, the contrast is strong. But once your eye’s adjust it’s fine.

View walking from Congress St.

View walking from Congress St.

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