Town Hall on Stilts

Reviewing the proposals to renovate Boston's City Hall in Architecture Boston's September/October 2007 issue, it's interesting to note that half of the schemes propose opening the ground floor to establish continuity between the plaza, the interior courtyard, and, in one case, the street on the lower side of the building. This is either evidence of the architects being totally disconnected with the desires of the public, or it's a great case for pilotis on a site where the flood is not hydraulic, but popular. In other words, City Hall may be a rock in the middle of a stream running directly to Faneuil. Lifting it above this flow would then make a lot of sense.

Fortuitously, AB shared an image of the 'traditional English town hall', the example above from Leominster, at our lunch today. Astonishingly modern and yet quirky, almost zoomorphic, Leominster town hall verifies the desire to occupy the areas below governmental space- literally lifting these spaces of governance on a cushion of civic air. More than anything, this would seem to verify the importance of proximity: that the spreading out of retail and representation on the same plane results in distances which are untenable. Stacking solves this problem by representing the act of political representation, connoting the floating building with popular support thanks to its tentative perch above the town's commercial heart. Either that or gives it sinister panoptical vision. Leominster's closed space of governance and open space of commerce resonate with something Dave Hickey said at Loopholes:

There are only two kinds of primal buildings: the wall that surrounds a space-- a fort that connects the earth to the sky and keeps out everything outside of it-- and there is the souk. The souk is a really simple structure. It is a carpet on the ground with the stuff you're selling on it, it is four stakes and a ceiling and no walls because commerce is about no walls.
Yet the idea of wall seems to have vanished from contemporary architecture. Transparency, that most illusive of architectural qualities, begs for continuity and the direct exposure it brings. Unsurprisingly, in an era when mass subjectivity has been shattered (and thus symbolism is multiple and difficult to manage), direct, literal exposure is a last resort. The question for me is whether walls- opacity- are useless for us. The thing about black boxes is that we rarely care how stuff works inside but we really care about what comes out of them. For some programs, putting the focus on outcomes and letting the doing sort itself out may not be such a bad idea. Hickey continues:
[The souk] has no walls at all, it's got a ceiling to keep god from seeing you, it's got a floor to protect you from nature, and we may go on with the human endeavor of trading with one another and engaging with one another.
Since god has long been dead, perhaps what we need is less protection from a ghost and more protection from the weighty requirements of literalness.