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Hail The Snail

August 21, 2005

As new and renovated buildings continue to change Hartford's urban landscape, it seems a good time to sit back and look anew at one downtown commercial structure that's been here for decades. The Metropolitan District Commission's headquarters at 555 Main St. is a functional beauty too often overlooked in our rush to add to Hartford's building stock.

With its daring, curvy architecture, the MDC building is downright Guggenheim-like. But it's an office building for 120 administrative and technical employees, not a museum. Its sleek, artful lines belie the quotidian nature of its existence. Completed in 1978 and designed by Russell, Gibson and von Dohlen Inc., the MDC sits like an elegant giant snail at the corner of Main and Wells streets, right across from city hall.

Here, east and west of Main, one is aware of a pleasing juxtaposition: In color, the granite MDC building and the seat of city government share a light sandy tone, with hints of pink. But in design, they contrast wildly and happily; across from the late-Georgian city hall, built in 1914, the MDC is a postmodern spiral.

When it was first built, the MDC headquarters got mixed reviews. To some, it was a three-story bunker and an affront to the majesty of its neighbors: the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Hartford Public Library, Center Church and, of course, city hall. But like Carl Andre's rock sculpture just down the street, the MDC has stood the test of time. It fits neatly into its environs and is proud, but not boastful. Its parking garage is tucked unobtrusively beneath. Passers-by are treated to a cascading fountain (with recycled, circulating water) and some graceful stonework. In short, it's an underappreciated classic.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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