mrs. architecture maven

dispatch from 02139 (in which we ramble among harvard yard’s architectural wonders, through the eyes of mr. chair)…

i promised, some months back, when i first pulled up my chair here and spilled the secret of where we were headed for the school year, that i’d not leave you straggling at the table, all alone to gather up the coffee mugs, pack away the placemats.

i told you we’d all dive  — one big uber splash — into this post-collegiate adventure, that i’d sneak you into lecture halls, prowl through poetry corners, stroll the banks of the charles river, tiptoe into vespers behind the monastery wall, even unload assigned and essential readings.

i hadn’t realized that i’d take you on an architecture tour. but, you might know — and if you didn’t, now you do — that i’ve long been wedded to mr. architecture critic, a man who long ago made my knees all wobbly when he uttered — in our first quaint phone call — the declaration: “God is in the details.”

fool me, i didn’t know at the time that this was hardly his original thought, but that in fact he was quoting ol’ mies van der rohe. i mistook his musing as prayerful; i didn’t yet realize that to the fellow on the other end of the coiled cord, his religion was architecture, and van der rohe, his patron saint.

but that was 25 years ago, give or take a couple months. and a quarter century later, i now know what it is to live entwined in the inescapable art, as my own personal critic so fondly calls it.

it isn’t always pretty.

case in point, for which we’ll turn back the clock to the hot summer day of 1991 when he and i at last succumbed to the grueling exercise of bridal registry:

why, we’d barely traipsed three steps down the bedding aisle at marshall field & co., that grande dame of old-world department stores on state street in chicago. i’d spotted a lovely set of sheets, blue roses, i recall, entwined in vines. i thought nothing of it as i hoisted my pen to scribble down their hardly poetic SKU. to which the architecture critic yelped in full protest: “i’ll not sleep on those. it’d be like getting tangled in a bed of thorns.”

oh, dear. you might imagine where we went from there.

there’ve been times, speeding mightily on highways, when my otherwise cautious driver/critic spies an architectural disaster and, barreling along at an otherwise modest 65 m.p.h., can’t help but jerk his neck, take eyes solidly off the road, and cuss up a holy blue streak, as i brace against the dashboard, praying i don’t die in blasphemous post-modern collision.

on more than one occasion, though, it’s been breathtaking.

say, the saturday morning some years back when we were contemplating a skylight in our humble kitchen, and suddenly the man across the table was quoting louis kahn, the great architect and writer, who saw in every window the celestial hand of God, who rained down shards of light as divine illumination on our earthly doings.

i was swiping at tears before he’d finished his soliloquy, and i thanked my lucky stars that he’d swooped me on this sky-ride.

so here we are, destination 02139.

it should come as no surprise that, to my very own architectural wonder, this cambridge campus is a romp through the playlot of architectural history. he goes out for endless walks. comes home pink-cheeked, as if he’s been pumped with high-grade oxygen. he pores over guidebooks, inhales history tomes. takes me out for urgent strolls, because i simply must see — to pluck but one discovery from just the other day — the whispering arc of sever hall.

and so, today, i invite you to cower under the umbrella with me, as it’s rainy here, and not the finest day for touring harvard’s grand gates and hallowed chambers, its granite steps and harry potter dining hall.

but tour we did, all 24 fellows, their co-vivantes (as we prefer to be called), and a smattering of nieman chieftains, all following the pied piper of harvard architects.

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you see him here, head bobbing amid the sea of rain-stoppers. and if you make out anything, do notice the ebullience on his countenance. the boy is joyful when talking brick and mortar.

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moving swiftly along, here’s a snap of the iron scrollwork of something called johnston gate, which marks the front door to all of harvard college. the snaps i’ve chosen here are cut and cropped to zero in on the beautiful. i’ll leave the big picture to someone else.

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and here, because i loved the scientific underpinning, is what the architecture maven calls, “the DNA of harvard,” its essential brickwork, colonial in root, laid out in variegated weave, not unlike the tweed jackets of a weathered harvard thinker.

after a studied stroll through old harvard yard (1700s), and new harvard yard (1800s through 1900s), the rain-splattered critic revealed that he’d snared backstage passes to a hallowed hall where the faculty have been known to shout down the president (of the university, not the republic — not yet anyway). there was much to make us gasp, but i found myself staring jaw-dropped toward the twinkling heavens.

which belongs to this…

and, now i’ll hush, and let you stroll past harvard’s glory…

memorial church, one grand place to pray…

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this is too itty-bitty, but up close it’s h.h. richardson taking your breath  away with botanic-themed sandstone, and light-as-souffle brickwork…..

and here, before we run out of time, space or dry puddle-hoppers, one last bit of delicacy from inside the morning-prayer chapel of memorial church….

was that a sigh i heard?

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and, at last, the harry potter dining hall, otherwise known as annenberg hall, “the great bristling brick valhalla” tucked inside memorial hall, where all the freshman gobble breakfast, lunch and dinner, and which does not welcome hungry gawkers. which, from the start,  is what stirred mr. architecture  critic to find an honest means to wend its food line. thus, this rainy traipse through harvard yard, just so he could chew and drool, all at once.

bravo, sweet blair.

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and there you have it! this dispatch is dedicated, wholly and utterly, to the mama and papa of mr. critic, the kindest, gentlest souls you ever did meet, and the ones i’ll love forever after.

here’s hoping not a one of you minded tagging along for the tour. at least none of you had to warm your sodden toes in the fire. which is where i’m headed now. 

anyone else stumble on a wonder this week, architectural or otherwise???

(pssst. clearly, i am having a tough time getting words and pix to line up…..bear with me while i struggle…)