Why architecture matters: how a walk down Clarendon St. in Boston’s Back Bay made my day

A bluish tinge reflects on Trinity Church from the John Hancock Building
A bluish tinge reflects on Trinity Church from the John Hancock Building (click to enlarge)

I’ve always loved the Back Bay. But it’s been years since I’ve worked there.

On the way to work this morning, I was reminded of why I love it and how important architecture is to one’s sense of happiness and well-being.

Today, April 4, 2014, is opening day for the 2014 Red Sox — a minor holiday in Boston. It is also a classic spring morning in Boston: cool with a breeze than means you still need to zipper the jacket all the way up. But the big difference between late March and early April is the strength of the sun. It’s higher in the sky and, in a promise of sweaty July weather to come, warmer. Around here, the only sure way to know spring is on its way by this tease of warmth from the sun.

As I walked north on Clarendon Street from Back Bay station towards the nondescript 1940’s building in which I work (the former New England Insurance building, now tastelessly re-labelled “The Newbry”), I passed the John Hancock Tower entrance and admired its entrance and the way it sits angled to the street. On the next block, I walked past the amazingly beautiful Trinity Church — such an important building in American architecture that a recent PBS series listed is as number two in a list of the “Ten Buildings That Changed America.”

All of a sudden, I noticed I was bathed in a blue light with a hue you might see during a soliloquy on stage. Only this wasn’t a narrow spotlight…it filled the entire width of Clarendon Street and was cast several blocks away, at least to Commonwealth Avenue . The rising sun, reflected by the John Hancock building down Clarendon St, lit up the sidewalk, street and, on my left, Trinity Church with almost theatrical effects.

It stopped me dead in my tracks. The more I absorbed it, the better it made me feel. The Hancock tower once had a reputation as the world’s tallest plywood building. This morning, however, it was the world’s tallest spotlight on the Back Bay.

I’ve tried to capture the moment with the lousy iPhone photo nearby. The photo is overwhelmed by the sun’s image on the tower. But you can, if you look hard, see how the building transformed sunlight into stage lighting. It was truly an (uplifting) lesson in the power of great architecture to affect the way people feel.





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