The parlance of architecture is filled with jargon, especially about Modernism and its consequent ‘isms’; less is more, less is a bore. Being firmly rooted in the former, I have been captivated by Meany Middle School’s understated elegance since I arrived on the Hill some 13 years ago. For me, its simple forms and restrained detailing (less is more) speak volumes to many of modernism’s most successful pursuits: economy of form, subtractive design, and the harnessing of daylight — a great benefit during the Hill’s rather gloomy winter months. As fortune (and a little planning) would have, the day I explored Meany was a sunny winter day whose resulting deep shadows proved well suited to best show off Meany’s qualities.
Meany’s most eye-catching feature is its saw-tooth roof. Such roofs originated in factory or assembly buildings in the latter half of the 19th century and persisted well into the early 20th. One we have lost –- such as on the re-developed Sunset Electric -– was a fine example of this typology. The advent of inexpensive gas or electric light spelled the demise of such welcome features, until they were resurrected by modernists who were not only captivated by their ability to foster better day-lighting but were also doubtlessly a fan of their rigorous, platonic forms. Meany’s roof readily displays those qualities, while adding its own take; for instance, the clear delineation of the concrete frame and infill as well as the continuous sunshade that provide a clean break from the saw-tooth form and the lower mass of the building, emphasizing the saw-tooth mass even more. Although not requisite in achieving elegance, the repeating of the saw-tooth nine times amplifies its desirable traits.