I like to take noontime walks around the (old) Civic Center block,
especially now that we're enjoying spring weather. It's a frenetic
construction site, even more so now that it's warmer. I'll stop at
a certain vantage point and have a long look, trying to figure out
a particular piece of this building puzzle, and how it all fits together.
Usually there are other equally curious observers craning their necks.
From the comments offered and exchanged, my survey tells me that
public opinion is pretty evenly split: some like what they see,
some can't stand it, and many are just fascinated, scratching
their heads trying to figure out what it's all about.
The figuring out part is really fun.
There is definitely a method to this madness. First there was the
demolition to strip the three-story concrete wrap around the coliseum
down to floor slabs and structure. This work proceeded down Trumbull
Street, then skipped around the corner and continued down Asylum
Meanwhile, at the corner of Trumbull
and Asylum, heavy demolition started as the crews carved out the
footprint for the new residential tower. As the demolition proceeded,
steel framing and clips were added to the façade to hold the new storefront and curtain
wall sections that were unloaded in long, pre-assembled sections.
This new façade was different. It wasn't brick, and it wasn't
flat. It was made of warped panels that curved away from the building.
The windows were randomly placed, and trapezoidal. When they pulled
off the green protective paper, the entire façade was as shiny
as the aluminum on an airplane fuselage.
Shocking? Maybe, but does every Hartford building need be red brick
and have a gabled roof that tries, usually badly, to hearken back
to Hartford's gilded age? Hey, aren't we trying to be New England's
Rising Star, looking to the future? How about some good contemporary
design, which I think this is, even if it is a bit edgy by Hartford
But as if to appease those brick
lovers, a protective curtain was pulled down in late March, and
all of a sudden a 150-foot-long brick section of brownish-red brick
façade appeared along Asylum
Street. It framed sections of glass at street level, which will be
new retail storefronts that open directly to Asylum Street. Someone's
listening to Ken Greenberg.
The next walk about revealed huge steel columns and beams coming
out of the ground at the corner of Trumbull and Asylum. Each week
they grow by a floor or two, and they now must be 10 stories out
of the ground. Why are the columns and beams so massive? Well, they
are going to support a very tall building, a 36-story residential
On the back side of the Civic Center along Ann Street, great long
sections of steel frames filled with wire mesh arrived on the site.
They were lifted and bolted into place, creating an exterior screen
wall for three stories of parking above grade. From Asylum Street,
this parking is thoughtfully set back, giving the street-level retail
space visual prominence.
It's a great show and one that we'll be able to enjoy for another
year until it's complete. But, more important, it's a big show for
In fact, this is the Big Show! More so, perhaps, than the new convention
center, this project is likely to tell us whether Hartford is ready
to act like a real city. This is truly an urban building. Credit
CBT Architects of Boston for literally turning the mall inside out,
and, in so doing, enlivening Trumbull and Asylum streets. The tower,
with 262 residences, is the first new high-rise apartment building
in downtown Hartford since Bushnell Tower over 35 years ago. Credit
the developer, Northland Investment Corp., also of Boston, for believing
that Hartford is ready to live up to the name they've given this
project, Hartford 21. It would be fitting, rather than having a ribbon-
cutting when Hartford 21 opens in 2006, that we have a payloader
knock out the lone column that so tenuously supports the skywalk
spenning Asylum Street. Let it crash to the ground, as a fitting
declaration that Hartford is ready to act and function like a true
urban center, with lots of street life and thousands of new downtown
Tyler Smith is a Hartford architect and a member of the Place board
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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