Architectural Anxieties

For some time now I’ve been anxious about all of the new buildings going up in Salem: the sheer number, their size and scale, and their design. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while I’m sure that this will be no surprise to you, and I have not been subtle with my opinions or presentations (see “When Monster Buildings Attack”, or the more idealistic “Ideal Cities”). I am a traditionalist so “modern” architecture is always a bit jarring for me, but many of these new buildings don’t seem to even have a distinct design, modern or otherwise: they just seem blatantly and mundanely ugly. Beyond aesthetics, it also seems rather obvious that there has been no attempt to integrate these structures into the existing material fabric of Salem: they could be built anywhere. Salem’s architectural heritage is so apparent: I’m clueless as to why developers and city boards do not make integration a higher priority. As I said, my concerns have been intensifying for some time: I used to just write off my dislike of a particular building to the organic nature of the ever-evolving city (there are so many great buildings here; we can absorb a few not-so-great ones) but now it seems to me that there is a danger of the bad outweighing the beautiful, and then Salem will be forever lost. Here are just two cases in point, of proposed buildings going up in very conspicuous locations, accentuating their impact: the new “Community Life Center” (essentially a Senior Center, long overdue), which will be built adjacent to a “Gateway Center” (housing/retail on the first floor) on a lot at the intersection of Bridge and Boston Streets, two major entrance corridors of the city, and the new, additional Waterfront Hotel on Pickering Wharf. The rendering for the former looks like it was drawn by a five-year old, and while the latter is somewhat less objectionable the completed building looks like it will block out the view of the harbor completely in its immediate vicinity. So we are welcoming people to Salem with one particularly unprepossessing building and then blocking their view of the harbor with another once they manage to navigate their way downtown.

Community Life Center

hotel 1

Hotel 2

Proposed Community Life Center building, High Rock Development, and Salem Waterfront Hotel & Marina, Symmes Maini & McKee Associates.

4 responses to “Architectural Anxieties

  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    I believe your concerns, unfortunately could be extended to many older US cities. There are few things more jarring than coming across a building that is not only devoid of style but utterly ugly plopped down in the middle of a city with many architectural gems. I understand that cost constraints can keep architects and builders from going all out in designing structures that fit with older historical buildings, and I don’t know that it’s healthy to proscribe construction that is “different,” but ultimately cities such as Salem and Charleston, SC, and Savannah, Ga., rely heavily on their atmosphere to not only attract tourists, but create a unique environment for residents. Erecting eyesores that, perhaps, are utilitarian and most certainly are not aesthetically unappealing really serves no one but the pocket books of a few folks. The vast majority of people end up losers.

  • Nelson Dionne

    The new hotel building looks like the designer is trying to throw in a touch of the Wentworth, by the Sea, in Portsmouth NH. too bad he didn’t try harder.

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