William Rawn: Architecture for the Public Realm

Introduction by Raul A. Barreneche, essays by William Rawn Edizioni Press, 2002, 144 pp., $40. Boston architect William Rawn designs superb buildings — imaginative structures that reflect a knowledge of history and the nature of each building’s setting. To accomplish this, he has made a habit of rigorously analyzing the problems and places he confronts. In the early 1990s, Rawn wrote a fascinating essay explaining the necessity of the two-sided retail street. Rawn had noticed that when a street has stores on one side and an open space such as a waterfront on the other side, it usually doesn’t prosper. Shops and customers gravitate to some other street, often one running perpendicular to the waterfront. People feel more comfortable when the two sides of the street reinforce each other and concentrate twice as many shops within walking distance. That nugget of wisdom is expanded upon in “Where the City Meets the Water,” one of two essays by Rawn included in a book that is primarily a photographic celebration of his architecture. The other essay explores “Campus and the City.” In the introduction, Raul A. Barreneche suggests that Rawn’s legal background — he earned a law degree at Harvard in 1969 and practiced in Washington, DC, before becoming an architect — explains “the thoroughness with which he thinks about buildings and their settings, and his precise and painstakingly careful analysis of a project.” Architecture for the Public Realm also features an interview in which Rawn discusses one of his most noted buildings, Seiji Ozawa Hall, at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts. It’s unusual to find an architect who is simultaneously a logical thinker, a graceful writer, and an imaginative designer. Rawn is a man of many talents.

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