I can still remember my excitement, as an eight year old kid, when the Phoenix Building opened on Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford, my hometown. When visitors came to our little provincial capital, we boasted we had the world’s first and only two-sided building (to our young ears it sounded like a wicked trick question – wouldn’t a two-sided building be flat?). The two curved sides of architects Harrison & Abramovitz’s elegant headquarters for one of our many insurance companies looks as fresh, modern, and elegant today as it did then. Modernist architecture has a reputation for being cold, intimidating, and colorless. The “boat building”, as it is still lovingly called in town, is warm, surprisingly intimate, and gorgeously chromatic with its blue-green glass and honeyed wood paneling.
When Frank Gehry’s Bilbao Museum rose in the 1980’s, the term “iconic architecture” was widely used to describe its elaborate sculptural forms. But the Phoenix Building was an icon long before Bilbao. The building just celebrated its, and I was delighted and honored to be asked to speak at the ceremony, mainly because the Phoenix is a key landmark in our iQuilt plan for downtown Hartford. The centerpieces of the plan is the GreenWalk, a one-mile chain of green spaces running from the Connecticut Capitol to the Connecticut River, and the Phoenix building and plaza sits at a major crossroads of the GreenWalk.
So it was a happy confluence of events that when the Phoenix decided it needed to repair its fifty-year-old roof terrace surrounding the building on Constitution Plaza, it used the occasion to “green” the roof rather than just repave it. It turns out that converting the terrace into a garden, and making an integral part of the GreenWalk, cost less than repaving! And the money was already going to be spent by Phoenix in any case, meaning that a major public benefit was provided with private funds. that kind of public-private cooperation is a key premise of iQuilt.
The spur for the green roof was Bonnie Malley, now the #2 at Phoenix. She was inspired by the iQuilt and the Greenwalk, and got the Phoenix leadership to agree to the garden plan. But she didn’t stop there — she agreed to become the chair of the iQuilt Partnership board, and has been doing an extraordinary job of shepherding the plan forward.