For Mark Pasnik, AIA, it started after architecture school—his desire to look at how architecture and planning resonate with the communities they serve. After obtaining a five-year bachelor of architecture degree from Cornell University, he augmented his design focus by pursuing a master’s degree in history and theory.
“I wanted to explore less conventional methods of being an architect,” Pasnik says. “That has led to a broad mix of work— architecture, of course, but also curation, books, and other ventures.”
As principal of the Boston firm over,under—and after 20 years of experience— Pasnik’s work seeks to demonstrate that architects can advocate for changing attitudes in their communities. That starts by looking at the impact of architecture today, as well as the impact it’s had over the past two generations.
Pasnik’s firm curated the exhibit “HACLab Pittsburgh: Imagining the Modern” at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh (on view through May 2, 2016), which studies the urban revitalization of the 1950s and ’60s that transformed Pittsburgh’s skyline.
“Imagining the Modern” is, on the surface, about the importance of preserving the Iron City’s urban legacy. Implicitly, however, it’s a critique of that legacy as a means of charting the everyday environment that impacts how Pittsburghers live and work in the aftermath of the postwar economic building boom that led to the dismantling of neighborhoods, population displacement, and partially completed buildings.
“We wanted to re-examine a moment in Pittsburgh’s history that most people think is negative, but which was an important moment of reinvention,” Pasnik says.
While pursuing his graduate degrees, Pasnik worked for Rodolfo Machado and Rodolphe el-Khoury as curator for the 1995 exhibition “Monolithic Architecture,” and as assistant editor of Monolithic Architecture (Prestel, 1995), a book based on the show.
This time around, Pasnik’s curatorial eye for “Imagining the Modern” is tied to his newest book Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (Monacelli, 2015), which he co-authored with Michael Kubo and Chris Grimley.
The fortunes of Pittsburgh and Boston played out differently in the mid to late 20th century, but the impact of top-down urban planning and successive schemes to reinvent each city remain the same: totalizing and, in many ways, dehumanizing.
The idea behind this winter’s Carnegie exhibit stems from Pasnik’s central argument about midcentury urbanism: the more people know about their city’s history, the better informed they are about their city’s potential. His starting point for the book is Brutalist architecture in Boston, which formed Boston’s signature expression in the 1960s and mid- ’70s. Pasnik’s goal is to guide people toward thinking differently about this specific time period in Boston’s history.
“Concrete buildings in Boston are often deeply misunderstood. The story of the city’s renewal is a complex one, but not all negative,” Pasnik says. “It was an era of substantial public investment and principled design—a legacy that should be better understood when tuning, rethinking, or transforming its buildings.”
Pasnik hopes his work will ignite further conversations nationwide about how best to preserve the concrete construction that defines many cities’ makeup.
“There’s a slow-growing appreciation for
concrete Modernism,” Pasnik says. “Tearing down and starting from scratch isn’t
an intelligent way to move forward—from an environmental perspective, financial
perspective, or cultural perspective. There are better options than the