Ripping the Soul Out of Boston? No Way!

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The Lucas transforms the former Holy Trinity German Catholic Church at 136 Shawmut Ave into a 33-unit luxury condominium complex with a new eight-story structure that combines the stone church and a tower. The project has been a lightning rod, provoking discussion centering on the balance between saving a notable piece of the city’s history, and creating a dynamic new development framework that responds to the creative energy and growth of Boston. While surprising to some, the design is important to consider as a reflection of the spirit or the soul, in fact, of a city known for both its history and its innovation.

In this case the architectural ‘soul’ is an echo and shaper of that experience. The project both anchors its place in time and reaches to the future.

With the Mayor’s new city planning initiative, all of us are working together to envision a dynamic plan for Boston. One that pulls together our eclectic collection of buildings and civil spaces; puddingstone, brick, wood, concrete, steel, glass, parks and neighborhoods into a city with a true sense of place, unlike any other.

You couldn’t ‘plan’ a new city today that evokes the ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’ of this country more than Boston…This spirit is reflected in an amazing series of historic events, buildings, landscapes, and the origins of democracy. This has bred in us a strong commitment to preservation, adaptive use, and the commitment to the shared community we call Boston. So surely, no single building can begin to rip the soul out of the city.

Some would say that the Catholic Church shouldn’t have let the Holy Trinity Church go – however, the Church has obligations to its congregation and the city to be relevant, to be fiscally sound, and to change with the needs of its people and Boston.

The benefits of re-using our historic structures – just as we are doing with the Godfrey Hotel in Downtown Crossing and we did with Boston’s Old City Hall — are not only saving the tenor of the city, the street, and the region, but making a dynamic contribution to Boston – which is so closely related to the ‘Old Boston’ that it is perhaps two sides of the same coin, and we are just looking at the other side.

There are many wonderful buildings left over from urban renewal and changing economies like the recently redeveloped Ferdinand’s store in Dudley Square and the still vacant Alexandra Hotel on Washington Street. These structures also accept change while still relating us back to our historic ‘soul’.

It is not just owners such as the church or the building developers or even the designers who are making decisions about the needs of the city – it is that we are all reacting together, to the goals of the people within the city… to create a new Boston ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’.

What better way to do that than to imaginatively combine the best of the old with the new? Perhaps the juxtaposition of old and new is really what Boston has always been about.

Bostonians are curators of creativity, always creating anew with a strong backdrop of our past. This is a city that will hold onto our history and there will be raucous battles over how to interpret it. Just like our forefathers who challenged the British and threw tea overboard, this is a city of progressive ideas. There is no taking the soul out of our Boston – the old or the new.

To see the blog on BostInno, click here.