The Historically Referential Parking Garage?

On Friday G and I took a brief (Shabbat-shortened) trip into Boston. Not wanting to be constrained by the infrequent commuter rail schedules, we drove from Sharon in to Quincy/Adams station on the Braintree branch of the Red Line, conveniently (for us) located just off of I-93. The cavernous parking garage was most empty when we got there around 10:30 (though, curiously, it was much fuller when we got back around 2:30). In many ways, Quincy Adams represents the worst of modernist, auto-oriented park and rides–it has 2,538 spaces, of which almost a quarter sit empty on a given day, and is completely inaccessible by foot for some of the dumbest reasons I’ve ever heard, as Andy from mbtainfo.com pointed out to me on Twitter. Nevertheless, Quincy Adams worked well for our purposes, and going there gave me a the opportunity to note something remarkable (if perhaps not intentional) about the architecture of the aforementioned 2,500-space garage.

First, an illustration of the car-orientedness of the area around the station, from DHK Architects, which has done some work on the garage:

Here’s a picture I took from the internal walkway a story up from the ground connecting the two halves of the garage.

Phone picture, 12/26/14

Phone picture, 12/26/14

Seem familiar? Here’s another view, from ground level:

To me, the towering dual garages, with an open atrium in the center covered by a high ceiling or window, immediately call to mind the famous, Cass Gilbert-designed Building B at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Check it out:

The Brooklyn Army Terminal’s rail stop is perhaps most famous for having once hosted Elvis Presley as he departed for his stint in the Army; two former LIRR coaches once used in an Elvis movie sit inside the atrium. Today, the glass covering the soaring atrium is sadly gone (though the atrium being open to the air has allowed a sukkah to be built inside!), and the tracks inside the building are, I believe, no longer connected to the national network, even as cross-harbor freight traffic has again picked up. But plenty of grandeur remains inside Building B, which is now occupied by various private commercial concerns. I highly recommend this photo essay from Scouting NY, one of my favorite sites.

I’ve been unable to find any proof that Boston architect Valdis Smits, who seems to have designed the Quincy Adams complex, intended the comparison to Building B. But it seems too much to be coincidental. The soaring atrium of Building B is a famous, epic motif, one instantly recognizable to a certain community of architects, planners, and transportation geeks. Both Building B and Quincy Adams fulfill(ed) a multimodal role, aggregating people from a wide geographic range and concentrating them into a more efficient mode of transportation. It’s possible that Smits’ inspiration was another building; commenters on the Scouting NY piece note that Gilbert’s design for Building B is very similar to the Ford plant in Highland Park, Michigan, and that Gilbert designed other buildings along similar lines. But for me, the inspiration and reference was clear the moment I walked into the atrium of the parking garage. Perhaps even the worst of Modernism still has the power to express something of meaning.

Think I’m crazy? Know something about this? Comment!

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2 thoughts on “The Historically Referential Parking Garage?

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