Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (Monacelli Press) by Mark Pasnik, Chris Grimley, and Michael Kubo re-evaluates the progressive concrete buildings that transformed Boston during the 1960s and 1970s often grouped under the problematic label “Brutalism”.
As part of our In The Gutter reading series, the LA Forum hosts a conversation with Heroic authors Chris Grimley and Michael Kubo, with board member Michael Sweeney, editor of the LA Forum Newsletter Brutalism Los Angeles on Friday, April 8 at Hennessey + Ingalls. Free RSVP here.
We spoke to Grimley and Kubo about East Coast/West Coast concrete architecture and Heroic’s impact on contemporary architecture.
While Heroic buildings in the US were often products of the transatlantic urban renewal movement—a phenomenon that was especially acute in East Coast cities like Boston—there were variations among cities in both the amount that was built and the character of the work that was produced. One of the qualities that drew us to Boston’s concrete architecture was the enormous volume of Heroic construction relative to the small footprint of the city center, a relationship that is obviously very different in Los Angeles.
We were struck by the Brutalism issue of the LA Forum Newsletter, which describes the style as “particularly irrelevant to the Southern California milieu,” one that “presents a brooding intellectual aspect and the image of an East Coast/Eastern [sic] European rigor”—which is ironic considering that critics of brutalism in Boston (and in the UK) often claim that concrete is only really appropriate for Mediterranean climates. In that sense it may be less the architecture of the buildings than the character of their context that is different between the two cities. On the other hand, the most monumental concrete complexes in Southern California, like the Geisel Library at UC San Diego or the Salk Institute in La Jolla, have a majesty and grandeur that seems uniquely suited to the West Coast.
The lessons of the Heroic era are complicated and not always clear. Through bold, centralized action, cities like Boston rejuvenated their economies and established a legacy of modern buildings of distinction. At the same time, urban renewal strategies disassembled communities, fractured neighborhoods, and ran roughshod over the interests of individual citizens. Yet for us the concrete works of the era stand as reminders of a time when civic investment in the public realm was possible and, at its best, achieved with high standards. Today when we depend on commercial activity and private investment to shape our public realm, we think the buildings and voices from the Heroic era call for us to take the mantle back again, to rise to principles and aspirations that today seem more urgent than ever. They ask: “Can we be heroic again?”
Image: Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, courtesy of Monacelli Press