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The Five-Point Weekend Escape Plan

Explore the Creative Side of Cambridge

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5. Oddball Day

Eero Saarinen's domed Kresge Auditorium at MIT.  

The elegant Georgian and Federal architecture in Harvard Yard may serve as the de facto face of Cambridge, but the city is also home to several of the country’s more challenging works of modernist and contemporary “starchitects.” Begin an architecture-themed day with a Hi-Riser ($7.50), a grilled sandwich of smokehouse ham, Vermont Cheddar, and organic eggs on a potato bun, at the locally beloved Hi-Rise Bread Company. Then, cut through the Harvard Law School campus to reach the Harvard Science Center (1973), designed by Catalan architect and former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Josep Lluís Sert. The béton brut (unfinished concrete) facade is an eyesore to some, but it’s also a testament to Sert’s modernizing influence at the red-brick-centric university. From the Science Center, walk down Kirkland Street until you see the fifteen-story white William James Hall (1965), designed by Minoru Yamasaki of World Trade Center fame; then turn right on Quincy Street and head to the imposing Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (1963), the only building in America by famed Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Follow the southern edge of campus along Massachusetts Avenue and make a left on Holyoke Street to grab a chickpea-fritter sandwich ($6) and molasses lemonade ($3) at Clover Food Lab. Walk off lunch on the way to Cambridge’s other architectural powerhouse, MIT; it’s a roughly 30-minute jaunt, though you can take a breather at Rodney’s Bookstore, which has the city’s largest collection of rare, used, and out-of-print books, like the ultra-rare 1959 promotional book of architectural renderings for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts ($213.75). Continue along Massachusetts Avenue until you reach the MIT Museum ($10), where the Architecture & Design Collection has more than 15,000 student thesis drawings. Marvel at the campus’s artfully designed dorms, like Steven Holl’s waffle-iron-esque Simmons Hall (2002), modeled on the porous anatomy of a sea sponge, and Alvar Aalto’s undulating brick Baker House (1947). Make your way to Kresge Oval, a green space flanked by two works by Eero Saarinen, the Finnish-American architect behind St. Louis’s Gateway Arch: the MIT Chapel (1955), a windowless brick cylinder surrounded by a moat, and the copper-and-glass Kresge Auditorium (1955), whose domed roof is said to be inspired by a segment of grapefruit Saarinen was eating one morning for breakfast. Walk to the eastern side of campus to explore Frank Gehry’s playful Ray and Maria Stata Center (2004), which incorporates corrugated metal, brushed aluminum, and vibrant yellow paint, as well as MIT grad I.M. Pei’s 21-story Green Building (1964)—Cambridge’s tallest tower, which student hackers turned into a massive playable Tetris board in 2012. Finish the night with dinner at Area Four, a favorite among MIT students. You’ve earned some carb-loading after all that walking, so dig into the simply dressed pies (clam and bacon, $17.50) and an orange chocolate s’more winter sundae ($7.50), and Al’s Hot Toddy ($11) to end the night right.

Published on Jan 24, 2014 as a web exclusive.

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