Is white the best color for the commuter-rail lobby at Back Bay?

Back Bay commuter-rail lobby

Tristan was impressed with the fresh paint at Back Bay today:

Looks like Keolis did some enspiffening at #BackBay station! Nice change.

Ed. question: How long will the paint remain white in a station that fills with diesel fumes whenever a commuter-rail train pulls in?



Free tagging: 


Any colour is better than the

Any colour is better than the drab 60s/70s dark brick design of yore. Seriously, who thought orange and dark browns were good choices for the architecture back then?

Hello, it's 1981 calling

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We want our decor back.

Seriously, dark brick and orange was a popular design in the late 1970s early 1980s. I worked in an office building in Kendall during a remodel in mid 2000's, which had not seen a large remodel since the late 70s and early 1980s. Tons of Orange, Brown, and dark brick everywhere. Yuck. It looked like 1980 threw up. But that was the style back then

Of course we're going to look at North Station, Courthouse, and a few more modern MBTA stations in about 30-40 years and go "what were we thinking?!?"

I kinda doubt the current

I kinda doubt the current design idea of glass and steel will be looked upon negatively, it reflects the colour of everything around it, gives views of outside, is easy to keep clean and brings light into dark places. It's also probably the most neutral you can get.


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Sure but the same could be said about polyester. Its easy to clean, easy to manage, travels well, and doesn't wrinkle. Yet I am not running out to Filene's to buy a polyester suit.

Kidding aside, I can't predict the future, and neither can you. Style may change greatly in the future, and this may (or may not) be considered 'neutral' by then.


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"Yet I am not running out to Filene's to buy a polyester suit."

Bad example. You couldn't run to Filene's even if you wanted to. ;-)

Oh, I'm sure everyone said

Oh, I'm sure everyone said the same thing about 80s decor when it was happening.

The only constant in design is that everything goes through an ugly-duckling period before it's rediscovered and is suddenly classic.

I make an exception for Brutalism

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I think that your reasoning might apply to many other styles, but not Brutalism, with its oppressive, anti-human abuse of concrete, to crush and destroy people's spirits.

I'd chalk up the 60s-80s affinity for Brutalism to one or more of (a) naïvety about the style, (b) wannabe Soviet sympathies, (c) widespread use of mind altering substances.

I credit Brutalism with giving a good kickstart to many of the NIMBY tendencies which infest our city nowadays. Pretty much any time you hear someone talking about a building "looming" or "overpowering" or being "too dense" you can be sure that they are driven by a deep-seated fear of Brutalism and the havoc it wreaked in the middle part of the 20th century. And I can hardly blame them, really.

I would like to think that anyone who ever again proposes a Brutalist monstrosity would be laughed out of the room. In a just world, a Brutalist-leaning architect would never be invited to design anything ever again, and would go back to doing something productive for the world, like flipping burgers.

The only reason I can think of to preserve a Brutalist structure would be to serve as an example of our folly, and a warning to future generations: never repeat this mistake. Never listen to the ivory tower starchitect with a crush on Stalin. Don't design buildings while under the influence of hallucinogens! Friends don't let friends Brutalize their cities.

But I don't know how much I'd want to preserve: that's quite a sacrifice. For example, I wouldn't want to keep Back Bay Station or Government Center in their current forms if there was an opportunity to fix them.

Sounds Like You Just Don't Like Cities

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Every architecture style has people who criticize the style, or appreciate the style. Just as there are many people who do not like Brutalist buildings, there are a lot of people who appreciate the style too. Brutalism means literally - Raw Concrete - as that is the primary surface material used. Concrete is a wonderful building material as it is strong and versatile. Many people enjoy the way raw concrete looks on buildings, just as people enjoy metal or glass cladding or limestone.

Really it sounds like you just don't appreciate or enjoy any Modernist style building. But what would you suggest as an alternative? That we go back to brick with white, wood trim? And do not build density when the city badly needs more density in every neighborhood, from Downtown to Hyde Park?

I hate Brutalism because I DO like cities

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Brutalism destroys cities. I can tell from your response that you must have also been shell-shocked. You seem to equate density and civic space with massive amounts of concrete and asphalt, much like the NIMBYs I mentioned.

Few things could be further from the truth!

Traditional cities built up plenty of density and urbanity without anything near the amount of RAW BRUTAL HEADSMASH CONCRETE that Brutalists insist upon. Those kinds of traditional, densely populated cities continue to be vastly preferred by the majority of humankind. People spend thousands of dollars just to visit such cities on their vacations. They much prefer that over the atrocious experiment conducted by Brutalist apologists on American cities during the "urban renewal" period. Sadly, our cities have still not recovered from this architectural disaster, even fifty years later.

As I said earlier, and I will reiterate: Brutalism is part of the reason that many people are scared of density. And that is very unfortunate, because densely built city can easily be beautiful, and nothing like the Brutalist monstrosities of the mid-20th century.

Brutalism is fundamentally anti-city. It was an architectural style meant to traumatize people and scare them away from the city. And that's why I make an exception: Brutalism is more than just a style that goes in and out of fashion. Brutalism is the architecture of city destruction, and that is why it must never be repeated.

MIT Stratton Center Renovation

In order to better facilitate actual community use of the building, they chopped out 300 tons of concrete:

It wasn't that MIT isn't into cool architecture or cares what people think about its odd buildings, either. They needed a community space that worked - and all that brutal excessive concrete was very much in the way of both modernization and function.

I'm Not Scared

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You're considering extreme examples only, as if you only know of Corbussier, when the use of raw concrete is much more versatile.
For example, look at some of the homes here:

Just because you build Brutalist buildings or just plain Modernist using raw concrete, does not mean your city is going to go to an extreme like Brasilia.
Boston has many nice, modern buildings that do not "scare them away from the city". Larger examples such as the MFA, BPL, MIT, Christian Science Center, Federal Reserve, ICA, BCA, and the BAC. And smaller homes or structures abound in those styles as well.

First: *I* don't build Brutalist

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Second: I don't particularly care for those small homes but that doesn't really matter, because they don't have significant public presence, and aren't expected to generate street life.

What does matter is that with few exceptions, large Brutalist architectural projects destroy the city, destroy street life, and drive people away.

You cannot lay claim to "BPL" as a Brutalist building. The McKim wing is what everyone remembers, with its famous Beaux-Arts style. By contrast, no normal person cares about the newer Johnson wing. It looks like a miserable high school library. Yawn. All it "contributes" is a blank street wall along one of Boston's busiest pedestrian corridors.

Pretty much all of your other examples all are similar cases, where the street life is due to the pre-existing traditional elements, or there is no street life at all. For example, I don't know what you think is so great about the Fed. It's a standoffish building that screams: "STAY AWAY FROM ME". Of course, that probably has more to do with the fact that it's a Federal government building, but the architecture sure doesn't help.

Brutalism is largely an architecture for egotistical, snobby architects who NEVER think about how their work affects people in the city. That's why they favor towers-in-the-park when possible. They cannot bear to mesh their work with the rest of the city, nor can stand to have their masterpiece sullied by diversity and messiness of life.

The only notable exception is the Christian Science Plaza, which works pretty well. My guess is because of the reflecting pool and because of the location. It would be hard to screw that up. But I'll give it credit as an exception to the Brutalist rule.

Is there a particular reason

Is there a particular reason why most college campuses at least have one gross brutalist structure? It seems there's one by every "quad" in the US.

It was the 60s, 70s, or 80s.

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It was the 60s, 70s, or 80s. Everyone was probably on drugs, or secretly sympathizing with the Soviet Union. Or both.

That explains a lot about those decades, really.


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Don't design buildings while under the influence of hallucinogens!

But DO look at ugly buildings under hallucinogens!

Many years ago under the influence I walked around Boston at 4am while tripping balls.. Boy did I have fun at Gov't Center and at Hurley-Lindmann buildings.

The Hurley-Lindmann just kept reminding me of a big space ship that had landed on earth. I sat there for at least an hour waiting for aliens to come out.

... and then the drugs started to wear off... dang.

Okay done

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I'd be down with that.

At least we could talk.. and talk.. and talk.. and talk (and you could hold up your end of the conversation)


is when this version of Back Bay Station opened.

Looks high gloss so if an

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Looks high gloss so if an employee wipes it down at the end of each day it should stay clean-ish.

Ha ha!

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Good one!

Vinyl or the like

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It's some kind of plastic applied to the surface, and it has a very slick surface, at least for now.

I took Amtrak from there

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I took Amtrak from there yesterday and did notice how bright everything looked.

Now how about adding more seating?

And having a train monitor in the lobby, and not just behind the ticket office?

And not closing bathrooms at 10pm. Service doesnt end at 10pm, why do bathrooms?

Also, ending Charlie Card giveaways at 7pm FOR NO REASON WHATSOEVER is tyranny.

Wait, you use the bathrooms

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Wait, you use the bathrooms at the station? How are you still alive and not suffering PTSD?

You clearly have never

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You clearly have never entered the 7th level of Hell known as the Back Bay Station Men's Restroom.

they could

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be a woman..

of course that begs the question.

Ladies, how is the back bay station ladies room? Is it like the 7th level of hell like the Men's room is? or did us guys (finally) get the short end of the stick and you have actual sinks and soap and toilet paper?!?

I dont mind it. I find the

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I dont mind it. I find the metal prison fixtures interesting. Ive even dropped off the kids in there,

Given that you can't use Charlie Cards

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on the commuter rail, it doesn't make much sense to give them away in a commuter rail station in the first place.

Of course, it the MBTA were truly serious about automated fare collection, they'd take serious steps to eventually require everyone to use RFID cards as a fare payment method( which was the original plan when AFC was first proposed in 2005). Then they could ditch the disposable paper tickets (very wasteful and environmentally unfriendly) and the need for the unreliable dual mode faregates and multi-mode (including cash) fareboxes on buses.

But, in their "wisdom", MBTA management decided to create yet another disjointed and incompatible payment system (the smartphone app) instead.

...You do realize that the

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...You do realize that the orange line and buses also use that station?

And that people arriving into town via MBCR or Amtrak may want to access these modes?

If theyre paying for staff to sit there in the ticket booth anyway, why are they banned for handing over a card after 7pm?

Silly me

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for thinking that most of the people going to the ticket window in the commuter rail lobby would be planning to buy tickets for the commuter rail.

And, with respect, I find it hard to believe that most people think "Gee whiz, I want to use the subway or a local bus. So I'll go to the commuter rail ticket window to buy my fare."

They may not know the difference

I had that experience in some European train stations: hunt the local rail kiosks! It isn't always easy when you have no idea what the logo you are looking for is ... and you just came to a station with rail links for three countries.

Do you travel much by rail yourself? I mean, out of the city or country? Not everyone knows these things on sight or notices the distinctions when they arrive from out of town via a train system that brings people into the city from all over the country and is used by people from all over the world!

And, looky here: it says T on it! I was told to look for the big T as a way to get information on the local transit system in Boston! This must be where I go! (purple meaning nothing to those from outside the city).

Logan, at least, has started making the airport usable by people who weren't born in it.

I've found Logan usable

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And I wasn't born there, either. I was born at the Brigham.

From my few times travelling on train in Europe, I will say that the local transport systems tend to be distinct from national or even regional systems (though not always.)

That said, I could see the confusion where one T is different from another T.

If youre looking for customer

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If youre looking for customer service, why wouldnt you go to the person at the window?

The fare machines sell subway AND commuter rail tickets. They also have instructions on what a charlie card is, and how to get one including " available at back bay, 7am-7pm" It doesnt say WHERE at Back Bay. Doesnt it make sense to assume they mean by the giant sign that says tickets?

And you avoid the initial point, of course. Why can that person not hand out a card at 7:05pm?

The MBTA Lied To You, And You, And You Too

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Take a gander at this:

Why, it's the press release they put out to announce that mobile ticketing app in 2012! And, what's this? "Monthly pass holders will be able to seamlessly link a plastic CharlieCard to their pass allowing them “tap-in” instead of using magnetic tickets for the MBTA subway and bus systems?" Why, it seems like the MBTA actually planned on having the smartphone app linked into the CharlieCard system from day one!

Now, if you ask your friendly neighborhood MBTA employee, they'll insist that that was not the case. They'll say it was "never the plan" to integrate, they'll say "CharlieCard will never be accepted on the commuter rail." You might be able to talk them into admitting that yes, at one time, it was meant to be integrated, but now it isn't and everyone is at fault - the vendor, the contractors, the politicians, everyone - except for them.

The MBTA, my friend, has lied to you and keeps right on lying to you, as is their wont. And it's probably not going to get any better even with the new management in place.

Train monitors

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You mean a screen showing what commuter and Amtrak trains are coming? There is one over the stairs to tracks 1 and 3, one by the stairs to tracks 5 and 7, and maybe over the stairs to track 2 also. The monitors inside the ticket booths list trains further into the future, though.

Who is a real train guru?

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Train guru's:

Is the ventilation system for the commuter rail tracks at Back Bay broken or just not turned on? I think there is a ventilation system designed to pull the fumes out of the tunnel. Aren't the big tower outside where the buses turn around, and the tower on the bike path near Tent City chimneys? I've always wondered whether it just isn't turned on or whether, like much else in the T, its broken.

Bad design, doesn't work

The MBTA poured money into ventilation in the 90's and/or early 2000's. It failed to make a significant impact on the exhaust, and they're not very willing to put more money into it again.

No fumes...

...they back in and I'm not the resident train geek (s).

"Ed. question: How long will the paint remain white in a station that fills with diesel fumes whenever a commuter-rail train pulls in?"

That's South Station

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and North Station where the trains come in with the locomotive at the far end away from the station building. At Back Bay, trains come through in both directions, so the fumes have a much greater impact on the interior.

The other issue with Back Bay is that, in addition to the diesel trains, it's right next to the Mass. Pike.

Yes it is.

Which is why we depend upon train gurus. To make us proofread...

Not paint, but impressive timing

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So both the columns and walls are not paint but a vynl like wrap. Difficult to see seams and looks good.

What I found impressive is that they turned this around overnight with the contract switch. Late on the 30th there was no action there, but it was shiny and awaiting the morning commuters on the first.

Its wrapped in sticky vinyl at $10 per sq foot.

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Usually you see ads done this way but I like this is a new approach to update the station. With the soot accumulating on the walls you can soon do reverse graffiti. Start tracing "clean me" in 2 months.
2 more things
1). I have serious beef with the vent fans in the MBTA system. in October the trains are still running AC because they don't flush out the air in the tunnels. In September all the vent fans should be turned on for maybe a week. They also should be turned on during the cooler nights in the summer. All the trains are dumping hot air into the tunnels with the AC running and it goes nowhere for a long time. I am going to try and have something done about this. Wish me luck.
2) I love brutalist architecture. I consider it a blank canvas for my art.


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that was always my favorite part of September, when the outside air said "fall's here...WINTER IS COMING" and the T station air said, "Nahh, still summer down here :)"

And vice versa, on the first few hot days, when it was unbearable outside but deliciously cool below ground.