Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge MA

During a recent trip to Boston, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the only building that Le Corbusier designed in the US.

Never mind that the building in question was the decidedly ugly Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Forming part of Harvard University’s campus, the reinforced concrete building was completed in 1962 and was designed to inspire art and creativity at Harvard.

Sandwiched between more traditional red brick Harvard campus buildings, the site that Le Corbusier had to build on was relatively small resulting in a compact, roughly cylindrical structure bisected by an S-shaped concrete ramp going up to the core of the building on the third floor containing various glass-walled studios and exhibition spaces. The ramp was supported by a few pilotis and cantilevered from a central spine containing a lift.

I generally love and celebrate all concrete buildings but the prominent ramp and rainwater stained concrete facade gave the Carpenter Center more than just a slight resemblance to a multi-storey carpark.

Unfortunately, Le Corbusier never actually saw the completed building and declined his invitation to the opening ceremony due to his ill health.

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