Sorry to Send You To Harvard With Unhappy Thoughts

I was looking at the searches that brought visitors to Coyote Blog, and in August and early September I had a surge of folks searching Peabody Terrace.   This seemed odd.  Then I realized that this must be young grad students who have been assigned Peabody Terrace as their housing and want to learn about it.  I feel bad that I have to spoil some of their anticipation, but this is what they will find on my site:

And, in case you are one who supports government "redevelopment" and mandates on aesthetics but think that it would all work out fine if architectural experts and committees of academics made the decisions, here is the hideous Peabody Terrace at Harvard University, presumably vetted by the finest architectural academic minds in the country:


These buildings, where Harvard stuck me for a full year, were transported right out of East Berlin, right down to the elevators that only stopped on every third floor for efficiency sake (efficiency of the builder, obviously, not the occupant).  The interior walls were bare cast concrete and no amount of heat could warm them in the winter.  It was the most depressing place, bar none, I have every lived.  But the "experts" loved them, and wished that this vision could have been forced by urban planners on all of America:

Leland Cott, an adjunct professor of urban design at the [Harvard] GSD, calls Peabody Terrace 'a model of design efficiency, economy, and attention to scale.'

Fortunately, someone gets it:

The magazine Architecture Boston has focused attention on the controversial aspects of Sert's work by devoting its July/August 2003 issue to an examination of Peabody Terrace, expressing the essential disagreement about the work in the form of a stark conundrum: "Architects love Peabody Terrace. The public hates it."

In fact, the public's hostility to the structures may be in proportion to its degree of proximity, with the most intense feelings confined to those households on the front lines of the town/gown divide....

Otile McManus, in a companion essay, discusses the reactions of many Cambridge residents, who have described the complex as "monstrous," "cold," "uninviting," "overwhelming," and "hostile," and have compared it to Soviet housing.

Actually, the most intense feeling were by those who lived there, who really, really hated it  (though I will admit there were several third world students who loved it -- must have been nostalgic for them).  The article goes on to accuse detractors of being anti-modernist.  Which is a laugh, since my house is one of the most starkly modern in the area, so modern I could not sell it several years ago.  I am not anti-modern.  I am anti-bad-design.

Wow!  I am kindof amazed at the hostility I still feel fifteen years after the fact.  I had started out just to link TJIC's post, and here I am in full-blown rant mode.  Sorry.

A blogger once described the Boston City Hall as "a poured concrete Vogon love poem."  I wish I had said that about Peabody Terrace.

The other thing excited, young Harvard grad students might find at my site is an excerpt from my novel.  This portion is entirely autobiographical (except for not being a girl) and describes my year at Peabody Terrace.


  1. Robert Sykes:

    Harvard also has a building by Le Corbusier, a self-avowed French fascist. Fascism was the coming thing in the 1930s. Corbusier, Johnson and others of that ilk merely got left behind with other the detritus as the tide went out.

    Ohio State has the stunningly ugly and dysfunctional Knowlton School of Architecture. It, like the Peabody, is the product of a corrupt, incompetent and self-absorbed pseudo-profession. But then, the entire world of art and architecture fell into outright criminal fraud and deception early in the 20th Century.

  2. Mole1:

    That is really funny. I remember a visit to Harvard. I was having lunch with a faculty member in one of the faculty dining areas, and he pointed out a building, and told me of the controversy surrounding it. It was hideously ugly, and the plan was to get rid of it and replace it with a better one for the purpose. But, you see, it was a seminal work of architecture! It had that ugly early 70s blocky poured concrete style, but it was built in the 60s! So, it just had to be kept (according to some)!

  3. GoneWithTheWind:

    in Oregon state law requires a percentage of the cost of building all public buildings be spent on art. You would not believe the monstrosities that seem to be art. Ugly structures made from a few I-beams or thousands of pieces of glass hanging from the ceiling, etc. What a waste of money.

  4. NL7:

    I have similar complaints about the Marin County Civic Center. It's a Frank Lloyd Wright building. If you google it, it looks sort of dated but looks way less horrid than in real life. I've never been inside, but driving all around the outside it looks quite dated. All the google images are from weird angles not reflective of where the average person would ever view the building. It just looks sort of silly in real life, like some mashup of the Jetsons and the Brady Bunch. It feels really old to actually drive around it in person. It's also in a really weird location away from any city center.

  5. Cloudesley Shovell:

    That place is as awful as the crack stacks in Minneapolis (oh, excuse me, Riverside Plaza). Another example of horrid design that nobody wants to live in that keeps winning architecture awards.

  6. Robert Hewes:

    "But then, the entire world of art and architecture fell into outright criminal fraud and deception early in the 20th Century."

    Where is the like button??

  7. John O.:

    Haha this reminds me of the Ellicott Complex ( of State University of New York at Buffalo. The building was designed in the late 1960s when the state was expanding the SUNY system and building its main campus in Amherst. The build is an architectural nightmare with hanging ledges and an even more confusing layout for all the poor students who have to dorm in it. To make that even worse, there's classrooms scattered through the building that have no elevator floor access, requiring the use of stairs you can't find because they're hidden in corners and yes even SUNYaB decided that they should be advanced and futuristic with that mythical efficiency by denying floors access to the elevators. At least they were smart enough to build an underground bus stop there, its only thing that had sense in the design of the building.

  8. obloodyhell:

    I recommend Tom Wolfe's From Bauhaus To Our House, a masterpiece of criticism of Postmodern Architectural "Design".

  9. obloodyhell:

    Dude, I've never even been in Cali, so I've certainly never seen it -- but it looks VASTLY better than 95% of the designs of the time, when Bauhaus minimalism, aka "The International Style" was the standard for large architecture -- brute force looks, giant slabbery buildings, cold glassy lines that look designed to slice hands off of anyone touching them.

    Notice anything? THEY'RE all BORING. They're all glass and steel boxes with all the artistry of a shipping package.

    I can't speak of the MCCC much from the pictures, but at least the building's look is fairly unique. You can look at it once, and know instantly what building it is and where it is. The various "international style" buildings are absolute CRAP with no visual artistic ability displayed in a single, solitary one.

  10. obloodyhell:

    Screw the like button :^D

    I wanna know where the "self destruct" button is for these buildings....

  11. John David Galt:

    Look for a line like this under each reply:

    0 / | * Reply Share >

    Click on the number before the slash to "like" that post.

  12. markm:

    So what's wrong with putting Boston's government into a perfect example of Brutalist architecture? Except that the builders forgot to make the doors open only from the outside...

  13. markm:

    Aren't elevators that don't stop on every floor an ADA violation?

  14. NL7:

    I don't mind forgettable; at least none of those buildings prompt disgust in me. It's a government building, it just needs to be convenient and accessible. They moved it to an awkward and somewhat inconvenient location as part of the effort, and picked a distinctive style that only looks dated and ridiculous now. I like the existence of weird and distinctive art and architecture, but I like it left in private hands; I don't like the idea of the government blowing so much money on a luxury. I'd prefer they lease some commercial space and operate DMV offices out of mall kiosks.

  15. LS:

    Borg architecture.