Cambridge, Temporarily


Kendall Square now…


Kendall Square as it could be?

One of the beautiful things about an academic planning exercise is that you can indulge in a little flight of fancy. A recent exercise at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design let people imagine a temporary urban intervention in one of Cambridge’s famous squares.

A “square”, in Boston parlance, really just refers to an intersection between two streets, and fittingly, many of them do look like an afterthought. Kendall Square, home to MIT, is one example: when JFK decided it was going to be the headquarters of the US’ future space program, the entire area was cleared of its population. While that didn’t quite pan out, the area gradually became filled with high-tech spin-offs from nearby MIT. That, however, didn’t prevent Kendall Square from being filled with 70s campus-style architecture, which lent it a creepy extermination camp vibe quite at odds with homey (if a little staid) Cambridge.

The following is a little blurb about the proposal:

Kendall Square on a winter evening is bleak, empty, but also potentially atmospheric. Reminiscent of the menacing and enigmatic cityscape in Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings, there is a psychological tension to this empty space that we seek to exploit in the installation Phantom City.

In the centre of the square, a 12-foot humanoid kinetic sculpture will mimic human motion through a hydraulic transmission mechanism. Surrounding the square, building facades will be draped in large phosphorescent photosensitive sheets, and small strobe lights will be placed along the edge of the pavement at regular intervals. As pedestrians pass by, the strobe lights will be set off, instantly capturing their likeness in the form of giant human shadows, which will then proceed to fade in ambient light.

On one level, this is pure spectacle that evokes the enigma of the night-time city–an empty city square in the flash of an instant populated by giant humanoid ghosts. But there is a temporal aspect to it as well: Kendall’s history has rendered the square tragically pristine and free of any sign of urban accretion; this installation, however, literally shows the process of accretion as passing people make an imprint, layer by layer, with the memory of their presence, inviting people to ponder who was here? what happened? Thus an amnesiac urban space is, however briefly, able to claim a history of its own.

This entry was written by Siqi Zhu , posted on Wednesday February 11 2009at 11:02 pm , filed under Architecture, United States and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “Cambridge, Temporarily”

  • Oh do please actually let something like this happen. Or, well, something. Anything.

    The billowing, empty sidewalks, blank glass facades, massive building footprints – this “square”, as it’s currently constituted, is death.

  • tobias says:

    i can only describe this plan as “outrageously stupendous”