Museum of Medical History
by James McCown
One particular drawing speaks volumes about the task that faced the architects of the new Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation at Massachusetts General Hospital. That drawing is a simple study of the density and urban configuration of the building's Boston surroundings.
To the south is the tightly woven residential neighborhood of Beacon Hill, with its venerable red-brick townhouses and tiny pocket parks. To the north is the sprawling campus of Massachusetts General, known locally as MGH or Mass General — a 30-building mishmash of architecture that includes everything from a neoclassical Charles Bulfinch-designed building to a ziggurat-topped glass-and-steel tower from the 1990s.
In designing the new museum, Leers Weinzapfel Associates was charged with mediating the scales of these two differing districts while also creating a new "front door" for the entire MGH complex. The result is an 8,000-square-foot (2,400-square-meter) gem of a building that manages to take the best from its surroundings while also forming a distinct street presence for itself.
"Cambridge Street is the dividing line between Beacon Hill and the hospital complex," explains Jane Weinzapfel, the firm's principal in charge of the project. "The new building is of a scale and materiality in concert with Beacon Hill and some of the hospital buildings on the north side of Cambridge Street."
The Russell Museum's unique program within the hospital campus also called for a different kind of building than its neighbors. "Medical centers tend to be inward-looking," says Weinzapfel. "This had to be transparent and very outward-looking."
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