Friday, October 19, 2012

Granary Burying Ground, Boston

The Granary Burying Ground in Boston is another example of a great outdoor room. Despite its large dimensions, it retains a character of intimacy due in large part to the strong sense of enclosure formed by tall adjacent buildings and a dense canopy of centuries-old trees. With tall intersecting building masses encircling the space and only one opening out into the street, there is a strong separation from the rest of the city. The space provides visitors with a sense of refuge that is almost comparable to the feeling of being inside a deep river-carved gorge lined with trees and surrounded by rocky cliff faces.

There are several layers of visual and cultural interest within the space. A varied backdrop composed of alternating brick surfaces and multi-pane windows provides architectural interest and adds scale to the space, while colonial-era tombstones with intricate carvings add interest and a sense of historic identity at the level of the pedestrian. (Graves include Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Paul Revere). Trees provide a pleasant and shady canopy for the space while also contributing an added layer of visual interest that changes with the seasons.

Part of the burial ground's interesting character also comes from its amorphous shape. Although such amorphousness is often disorienting in older city street patterns where it interferes with navigation and a pedestrian's sense of direction - an experience anyone navigating this section of Boston has surely encountered - here the burial ground is only open to the street on one side and so its charming amorphous shape does not interfere with the strong sense of orientation that this single opening creates. Instead the unusual shape serves as a source of visual interest that gives character and unique identity space precisely because of its peculiarity.

Surrounded by a dense cluster of tall buildings, the undeveloped land of the cemetery stands out as a unique landmark and attests to the unique role that cemeteries can play in older cities to preserve unique and surprising moments of open space even in the densest parts of the city -- a phenomonen which can be similarly observed in New York's West 11th Street Jewish cemetery or St. Paul's Churchyard in New York's district, both of which will be discussed in future posts.

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