BOSTON — Nestled in the grassy Rose Kennedy Greenway downtown, The Meeting House is a site-specific structure of a precarious, partly sunken building that juts 14 feet into the air. Commissioned by the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, the piece is a Quaker-style house made up of 20 different parts using traditional woodworking techniques.
Artist Mark Reigelman II constructed the structure in pieces in Brooklyn and assembled it on-site. The massive yellow house is a topsy-turvy reconfiguration of colonial architecture from the surrounding Boston area, imitating the traditional Quaker-style meeting houses that served historically as community centers and gathering places. The piece was inspired specifically by the Pembroke Friends Meeting House, built in 1706, the oldest Quaker meeting house in Massachusetts. It also seeks to remind visitors of the “Big Dig,” the $14.6-billion project that took place from 1991 to 2006 to bury a formerly elevated highway, which resulted in the 1.5-mile Greenway on which The Meeting House sits. Whereas such a structure looks out of place surrounded by looming skyscrapers, a couple decades ago it would have been surrounded by the context of other residential structures.
Reigelman juggles the historicity of the piece with creating something that is ultimately meant to provide an opportunity for community-building through public art. This notion of coming together is highlighted by the piece’s whimsical structure. Its garish yellow paneling and sunken construction provide an element of fun and curiosity to an otherwise rigid and practical geometric building style. People are invited to interact freely with the piece — get up close to the windows, walk on the slanted roof, knock on the wood panels. If you look closely, you can see the handprints of several children who have attempted to climb it.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article suggested that the Big Dig had involved the construction of an elevated highway and displaced thousands of citizens; the Big Dig actually sought to move below ground an elevated highway whose construction decades earlier had displaced thousands of residents. We apologize for this error, it has been fixed.
The Meeting House is now on view at the Rose Kennedy Greenway (Atlantic Ave & High St, Boston)