Every month architects and industry insiders share their recommendations for the best exhibitions and events to visit in Boston.

July 2019
Alyson Fletcher
Senior transportation planner at Nelson\Nygaard

Normally by July, Boston is taking some time to cool off from its event-packed year of learning. But so many design exhibitions just opened, giving great reason for staying around town. (Currently wondering how Boston ranks for design exhibition density.)


My personal favorite: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s Big Plans: Picturing Social Reform, which recounts the history of social reform photography and landscape architecture’s roots as a progressive response to the living conditions of working class people. Much of the exhibition is comprised of intricate hand-drawn landscape engineering plans and analog photorenders for grand-scale works like Central Park, the Columbian Exposition, and the Emerald Necklace.


Little-known to many, having been educated about Boston’s social reform movements, Isabella sponsored tenement garden competitions in the early 1900s. To the shock of the news, Isabella would also visit the participants at their tenements to witness the arduous feats needed to nurture their seed-grown plantings in what was described by the news as “pathetic” conditions. Once awards were distributed, the gardening winners were escorted to the Gardner home for a picnic party to celebrate. A news article reflecting on the competition reclaimed “Its educational influence had been felt in some of the gloomiest homes of this city where many a dark alley had been brightened by the presence of flowers which had hitherto been unknown in it.”


The Gardner Museum’s exhibition will be on view until September 15th with an extensive program of related events. At the upcoming Third Thursday after-work event on July 18th, one can make your own seed bomb and help geocache them in green spaces throughout the city.


Taking progressive thinking forward about seventy years, the Institute for Contemporary Art’s exhibit Less is a Bore: Maximalism Art & Design documents a movement reacting to the dominance and bias of minimalism. The exhibit questions work that inherently marginalized the values of non-Western cultures and the work of “low” arts like pattern-making and decoration. The exhibition stimulates queries of what is art and who has the privilege of doing it while also playing with how one experiences it. Sign up for one of multiple curator-led events to dig deeper on the subject. Or go the way I prefer: at ICA First Friday, one can participate in an interpretive gallery talk, make arts-and-crafts, and/or join the dance party out on the harbor deck.


Also on the bucket list: I hope to check out the BSA’s exhibition Balancing Act: Urbanism and Emerging Technologies and to sneak a peak of the Harvard Art Museum’s Bauhaus exhibit (which closes July 28th).


Hop off the internet and take advantage of the silky air outdoors to transit yourself to one of these excellent exhibitions!

Past Editors