Story 06: The Big Move

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Program Committee Report (1973) Template for a New Museum

Written by Mike Spock

So, a course change: we began to work with Chuck Redmon and John Stebbins, also at Cambridge Seven Associates, on a hypothetical plan that would meet our needs and, with maybe some new construction, could be combined with an existing building to make a whole museum. Guiding the process was a "Program Committee Report," which stated, "In [this report] we have tried to describe an economical and functional envelope to house the museum's core program on a compact downtown site..."

We came up with a museum model that had three distinct parts. The first was a multi-story loft space that could easily be divided up into subspaces for a variety of functions (imagine finding an unused New England cotton mill or an apartment building or a decommissioned hospital). The second was a large, clear-span, undifferentiated space (think of a theatre, like our old Jamaica Plain auditorium, or a big box retail store or a gymnasium). Tying these two spaces together would be a third element, a utility core housing stairways, elevators, HVAC systems, restrooms, electronic networks, collections storage, etc. (e.g. library stacks or the Pompidou Center or an underground airport baggage-handling system or an oil refinery.)

Starting with one unit, say a derelict powerhouse, we could imagine it being converted into an open, multilevel exhibition hall, and, with the addition of the other two units (the loft spaces and the utility core), would complete a fully functioning museum. Or, we could start with an old 1920s grade school that would give us useful loft space to which, if we lucked out and it had a real gym, all that you would need to add was the specialized infrastructure (the utility core) to complete a new museum. But no single existing site would probably have all the features we would need to complete a "new" museum. Thus, this three-part model was just the template we needed to communicate among ourselves and with Cambridge Seven Associates to assess our options and resume trolling for another downtown site.

Next: Blackstone Block (1973)