In a city as jam-packed as Boston, future growth needs to be upward. But it doesn’t need to be dull or repetitive. When a developer announced plans last week for a 23-story apartment tower on a key parcel in the Fenway, it wasn’t surprising that some neighbors took issue with the height; that’s a familiar concern — albeit one that overlooks the many benefits of greater urban density. Fortunately, at least one neighborhood leader raised a different issue that gets too little attention in the development process: How distinctive will the tower look?
In comments to the Boston Business Journal, Fenway Civic Association president William Richardson said the height isn’t bothersome, but suggested that the design would look like too many other recent projects. Located at Boylston Street and Brookline Avenue, the parcel in question is triangular — like the parcel beneath New York’s iconic Flatiron Building. “I love the Flatiron Building,” Richardson said, “and not that I think they should do a copy of it, but I’m getting a little tired of [the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s] flat-pane and enlarged glass designs.”
Whether one agrees or disagrees with his assessment, this is the kind of discussion Boston should be having. In a city such as Chicago, with a long tradition of landmark urban architecture, it’s harder for a self-respecting architect or developer to put up an undistinguished building. Bostonians, and the public officials who represent them, should cultivate the same ethos by fixating less on height and shadow and more on groundbreaking architecture.