Loeb 45 Journal: Peter Vanderwarker's New Ideas About an Old City

Rounding out the second day of the Loeb 45th Anniversary Celebration and Alumni Reunion, artist Peter Vanderwarker (LF ’97) oriented the audience to Boston with a photo essay on the city and in particular, the Seaport District. Vanderwarker is a photographer with formal training in architecture. His lecture was well timed before the Loebs broke out for their “Boston Mobile Workshops,” and he drew from the topics of his publications over the past 30 years: The Big Dig, Reshaping an American City (2001), Cityscapes of Boston (1992) and Boston, Then and Now (1982).

Vanderwarker took full advantage of the Friday events location in Boston’s District Hall to point out the streetscape of the neighborhood, without sparing due criticism. He captioned the aerial image: “Seaport Boulevard: A poorly scaled road for a new Boston neighborhood.” Although the initial tone might have been critical, Vanderwarker led us through a hopeful argument about the value of remembering a city’s infrastructural scars. He prefaced the presentation by describing the Seaport District as “1) Shaped by infrastructure since the American Revolution, 2) Today, the victim of a bloated automobile infrastructure.” But reminding the audience that this was not just a discerning photo essay but a proposal for the future, he ended with “3) Tomorrow? The solution may again be infrastructure.”

Vanderwarker contrasted aerial images of Downtown Boston and the Seaport District, one of which seems to be made for people and the other for “a bloated automobile infrastructure”. Throughout his photographic overview, he juxtaposed contemporary images of Seaport District construction with historical maps of Boston from 1775 to present day, highlighting the evolution and consistent presence of massive infrastructure, reminding us of Seaport’s identity as artery and port for ships, trains and automobiles. Our own presence in the Seaport’s new District Hall was a sign of the neighborhood's will to rebrand itself as a people-oriented “innovation district”. But Vanderwarker’s images of the scars of infrastructural projects like the Big Dig on Seaport’s landscape served as a constant reminder that the neighborhood’s past cannot and should not be forgotten.

Referencing The Necessity for Ruins: And Other Topics by J.B. Jackson, Vanderwarker introduced his final suggestion with the declaration that “We should not be afraid of allowing ruins that evoke and celebrate our past.” To emphasize the importance of making these ruins and memories accessible to the public, Vanderwarker’s plan included a network of four memorials to the seaport district’s infrastructure history. Adding to the Dorchester Heights and Donald McKay memorial, he proposed the Rolling Lift Bridge Memorial near the Rolling Bridge Park and the Frederick Salvucci Memorial near the intersection of D Street and Congress Street.

Vanderwarker ushered in the mobile tours activity with the message, “Enjoy the Seaport, foster good design, respect the past.”

Want to hear more? Watch the lecture.

Photos of Big Dig and Seaport area construction courtesy of Peter Vanderwarker
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