Spatially Embodying an Ethnic Minority-Host Society Relationship: A Cultural Portal in Watertown, MA – Nicholas Greene

Today, we head back to Wentworth, to check out Nicholas’ project for a “cultural portal” in Massachusetts.  Nicholas creates a solution for how architecture can be used as a vehicle for creating and defining a cultural identity, as opposed to resorting to simply copying the predominant architecture of those people.  The building creates a vehicle for the Armenian population of Watertown, MA that allows the Armenian population of the area to celebrate it’s own cultural identity, but at the same time integrate into the areas deep grained American culture.

STUDENT: Nicholas Greene
  Wentworth institute of Technology
PROFESSOR:  Bruce Macnelly
YEAR:  Fall 2009 – Spring 2010
COURSE:  Thesis
PROGRAMS USED:  AutoCAD, Autodesk Revit Architecture, Adobe Photoshop CS4, Adobe Illustrator CS4

At it’s core, this project is as much an in depth academic investigation into the fields of sociology and anthropology, as it is an exploratory attempt to architecturally embody these topics.

The Cultural Portal represents the “both/and” socio-cultural qualities inherent in the relationship between an ethnic minority and their host society. While the ethnic minority must externally undertake certain socio-cultural, economic, and political obligations required within their host society, they must also, resist total cultural, economic and political assimilation, to internally preserve their cultural identity and memory. Through in depth research of this specific relationship, this thesis proposal intends to produce a building whose subtle spatial organization and tectonic qualities celebrate the socio-cultural complexities between the Armenian Community in Watertown, MA, and the members of its host society.

It is also crucial to understand that this thesis does not intend to produce a building representing a new style of Armenian architecture. Rather, the research is a case study that uses the socio-cultural “both/and” relationship between an ethnic minority and host society to produce a publicly shared building. The resultant form does not adhere to a particular architectural vernacular, but instead, emerges as a spatially unique representation of a minority population’s subsistence in there host society.

This project proposes a re-designed museum/library/restaurant/community-admin office for the Armenian community in Watertown, MA. This building would replace the existing Armenian Library and Museum of America (ALMA) on it’s existing site in the center of Watertown Square. The current museum, housed in 1950’s renovated bank building, holds a 27,000 volume library of rare Armenian Literary texts and transcriptions, a 20,000 artifact collection of art, jewelry, textiles, and religious relics, and a floor devoted to museum admin and community offices.

The decision to focus the thesis on this particular community was based on demographic clarity; as my research of other ethnic minority groups in the greater Boston area discovered less visually apparent and culturally succinct populations. In addition, after researching and meeting with members of the towns Armenian community, I discovered the vast number of highly secular religious, media and community institutions used by its members. The existing ALMA is the only non-secular organization within this area, and therefore offered me an appropriate site and set of programmatic conditions to use as the base for this thesis.

Finally, the theoretical research behind the proposal produced a building with a rich plan and sectional concept. In plan, wall thickness plays a hierarchical role. Areas of programs are juxtaposed as very public to very private, and these private areas are then encased in a louvered walls to screen the views one would have from the building’s exterior and provide appropriate amounts of natural light. Seen in section, the new museum displays the literal and metaphoric threshold that defines what an ethnic minority must protect (most importantly the Library) and at the same time, make accessible to the host society that surrounds them.


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