Contrast and juxtaposition give me an aesthetic rush. Viewing New York City from Central Park or the tenement behind my house from my garden highlights the otherness of each element in such a way that both are elevated.
This isn’t just true of the vegetable/mineral contrast of (constructed) nature in the built environment, it works for the old and the new as well. I have dozens of preferred sights in downtown Springfield from the applied pilasters of the old Mass Mutual tower viewed through the gap between the Court Square Hotel and the Chicopee Savings Bank building to the terminating vista of Elliot Street created by the entryway to an apartment building on Spring Street, but the one I always take the time to appreciate is the Haynes Hotel surrounded by the Monarch tower and One Financial Plaza.
Everything about it works; brick versus glass, old versus new, the horizontal versus the vertical, even people versus cars.
Before I came to live on this stretch of Maple Street I used to look for excuses to walk or drive northward on it just to see the towers of the downtown looming behind 19th century townhouses, apartment buildings, and churches.
Leon Krier describes how the breathtaking beauty of European cities is created by the interplay of vernacular architecture, often unremarkable viewed in isolation, and small bursts of classical design. Just from my memories of a summer trip spent visiting Madrid, Toledo, and Segovia I can recall just how this interplay manages to mesmerize.
I wonder what qualities the buildings which will be built on the parking lots of today will have? That they will be built on I am fairly certain, unless the city is abandoned, but how will the vernacular materials of choice contrast with the opulent constructions of Springfield’s Golden Age and the International Style banality of our 20th century construction?
The MGM project’s eclecticism, both faux and genuine, will be interesting to experience. I have seen at least three different designs for the Main Street frontage of the project with the last one placing a mirror behind the façade of the Union House hotel. It appears to me that they are doing a wonderful job of restoring the windows on the front of the building by using material from the now razed north side of the structure. I hope the remaining transitions of materials and design appear somehow necessary and not capricious.
The whole MGM Springfield concept, it seems, is profoundly dependent upon the success of the juxtaposition of all of the things that make up an actual living breathing city with the disneyesque world of modern Las Vegas, with the old armory tower standing at the center as the most ruggedly authentic fantasy castle of all time.
Certainly the east side of Main Street and the north side of State will be the key to MGM’s success. People entering, exiting and walking along the edge of the project will experience that which isn’t MGM with a perspective giving a more complete view of “the other” than of the resort itself. There is also clearly something much more enjoyable, at least for me, about being on vacation somewhere where most others are not. Nothing is more tedious than being a tourist among nothing but tourists whereas being a tourist among people going about their daily lives is exhilarating.
For the first time in 35 years it seems as though construction is everywhere. I’m walking behind fences, along walls, under staging and being detoured down different streets and sometimes alleyways. I see cranes in the air. The moves are big and bold; the fragile green shoots have been replaced by substantial new growth. At the risk of pushing the metaphor too far, when grass dries up it blows away unnoticed, when trees fall the consequences can be much more dire. Here’s hoping this flurry of activity isn’t contrasted with decades more of stagnation.