Boston City Hall to be demolished?

Discussion in 'Buildings, Architecture & Infrastructure' started by unimaginative2, Jan 16, 2007.

  1. BOSTON JOURNAL; Fighting City Hall, Specifically Its Boxy Design and Empty Plaza

    Published: December 25, 2006
    Boston City Hall, a hulking, gray concrete box of a building, is hard to miss. And lately so are people's opinions about it.

    Debate about City Hall was sparked anew last week, when Mayor Thomas M. Menino proposed selling the building and its large brick plaza and moving city government to an undeveloped waterfront parcel. Mr. Menino thinks that the sale would fetch about $300 million and that the new building would prompt growth in an undeveloped part of the city.

    ''It really doesn't work for municipal government,'' Mr. Menino said. ''The building is unfriendly, cold, and the way it's structured, it has a third floor only on one side and it doesn't have a fourth floor.''

    Descriptions like ''fortress'' and ''dungeon'' have long bounced off the concrete walls of City Hall, which has seen a recent influx of mice. The plaza is known mainly for its T stop, wind gusts that steal umbrellas and a fountain that was paved over because of leaks.

    ''I'm convinced someone in power had an uncle who owned a concrete factory,'' said Councilman John Tobin, who with a colleague proposed selling the building in 2003, only to have a piece of the ceiling fall on their desks days later. ''The air quality is poor. The windows don't open, and some offices are like meat lockers and others you can get a tan in.''

    But Mr. Menino's announcement has also strengthened the will of City Hall's defenders; some see it as a seminal building in the city's history, and others do not want the seat of city government to move to a waterfront location that can be difficult to reach.

    ''It's extremely important, architecturally, and it's been recognized as one of the best modern movement buildings in the U.S.,'' said Pauline Chase-Harrell, an architectural consultant who was chairwoman of the Boston Landmarks Commission in the 1980s. ''It was intended to symbolize the rebirth of Boston,'' Ms. Chase-Harrell added, with the new concrete building growing out of Boston's red brick past.

    Thomas H. O'Connor, the university historian at Boston College and author of ''Building a New Boston: The Politics of Urban Renewal,'' said City Hall was a controversial building from the day its first rendering was unveiled in 1962 because it so contrasted with the city's colonial architecture. It was completed in 1968 to numerous jokes, including that it was the box that neighboring Faneuil Hall came in.

    ''I think members of the new architectural era thought it was marvelous, and I think by and large the general public was horrified by it,'' Dr. O'Connor said.

    It is not so much the building that must be preserved, Dr. O'Connor said, but its location, which intertwines city, state and federal government in the neighborhood where American democracy was fomented.

    ''The location now is central to what should be a very proud government center for Boston, and I don't think putting it somewhere else would do the trick,'' he said.

    The building has drawn professional praise as well as condemnation. In 1976 a poll of architects named it one of the 10 most important buildings in America, while the Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit organization of urban planners, voted the building and plaza into its ''hall of shame.''

    Some architects see the emptiness of the plaza, which was meant to hold restaurants and benches, as a municipal failing. Elizabeth S. Padjen, editor of Architecture Boston magazine, said in the May-June 2005 issue that the center looked like ''someone who has lost his self-respect,'' and the inability to fix it stemmed from something in Bostonians that ''favors self-flagellation.''

    Gerhard Kallman, who designed the building and its surroundings, also said in the magazine that he had expected the plaza to be developed with restaurants and other public spaces. In an interview, Mr. Kallman, 91, said the building was not meant to be trendy and disposable.

    ''A building like this is an iconic public building,'' he said, ''and it really becomes a memory of a city's history. It cannot be easily replaced for reasons of temporary convenience. I hope those who do recognize its importance to the architectural history of the past few decades would make their opinions known to the mayor.''

    The people in line at the parking clerk's window during lunch Thursday were more than happy to offer their thoughts on the building.

    ''It's prime real estate. Just nuke this and sell it,'' said Jerry DiPietro, 47, an asset manager from East Boston who was in line. ''It's such a waste of space.''

    But Karen O'Donnell, 53, an electrician from Waltham, Mass., said she enjoyed the occasional concert and sports rally on the plaza, and worried that the gathering space could not be replicated.

    Up a set of escalators, in a hallway decorated with works by local artists, Mary Pearson, 71, the head clerk in the city's assessing department, said she would be happy to see the building go.

    ''I hate this building,'' Ms. Pearson said. ''It looks like a dungeon. It's so blah, how else can you say it? That's how it feels.''

    Janet Pagano, 55, who works for the nearby school department and has business at City Hall nearly every day, said she wanted the building to stay where it was.

    ''I'd be disappointed, only because it's so accessible right here,'' Ms. Pagano said. ''Being a city employee, it's just easy to get here.''

    Wrecking ball tolls for City Hall
    By Alex Beam, Boston Globe Columnist | December 18, 2006

    Preservationists are already crawling out of the woodwork to oppose mayor Tom Menino's One Great Idea -- moving City Hall to the waterfront and selling off the existing monstrosity to a developer. Predictably, the architectural priesthood is shedding crocodile tears over the possible loss of Gerhard Kallmann and Noel McKinnell's "important," but ugly, molded concrete, Brutalist doorstop. But there is only one possible fate for the Incredible Hulk: Tear it down.

    Boston City Hall shows up in every architecture lecture in the world. Generations of snoozy undergraduates have seen the slide of Le Corbusier's odd, ramparted monastery of Sainte-Marie de la Tourette in Eveux, France, followed immediately by a picture of our City Hall. As if it were somehow relevant that a difficult to appreciate building by a great architect begat an ugly building by two other great architects. I have nothing against Kallmann and McKinnell, by the way. I practically live in one of their wonderful creations: the Newton Free Library.

    City Hall may be interesting intellectually, but it's been hell to live with. Buildings have two faces. City Hall's exterior, which the world sees, is unprepossessing, to be charitable. The unseen interior is even worse. In an interview with Architecture Boston magazine, former mayoral aide Carter Wilkie described his workplace: "All of the dark, gloomy bleak concrete, wall after wall of it, is oppressive as you walk through. In those spaces where there aren't windows to the outside, it's very bleak. Even the spaces that should be monumental in a public building are a real disappointment."

    Let's face it, Boston is a city where A-list architects have dumped a lot of B-list buildings. Philip Johnson , after doing a nice job building the modern extension of the Boston Public Library, threw up the nondescript International Place towers. Frank Gehry offloaded the silly, self-parodying Stata Center right in the middle of M.I.T. Charles Luckman had taste; he commissioned Park Avenue's Lever House, Manhattan's first, signature, International Style skyscraper. Then he gave us the Prudential Center.

    Right next door, the CBT partnership, which is capable of great work, gave us the nothingburger R2D2 building, also known as 111 Huntington Ave . Now they are walling in Boylston Street east of the Hynes Convention Center, just so Robin Brown's rich friends can overpay for condos in the new Mandarin Oriental. There oughta be a law.

    What other Boston buildings should be torn down?

    The great Henry Cobb gave us the John Hancock tower, but also the eyesore Harbor Towers, said to be the city's most desirable residence because the occupants can't see . . . Harbor Towers. As a young shaver, Cobb worked on the master plan for Government Center, the hideous brick and concrete setting for the Medusa head that is City Hall. "That space has a lot of problems," Cobb told me in an interview eight years ago. "We imagined there would be a green space there that would be linked by Tremont Street to the Common. Now, as a brick plaza, you look at it and say, 'Where are the people?' "

    Well here is a chance to correct Cobb's, Kallmann's, and McKinnell's mistakes. For four decades, City Hall has squatted on the best nine acres in town, and everything has tanked there, from Yo-Yo Ma's Music Garden to the Enchanted Village. OK, it's a good enough venue for showering praise on World Series and Super Bowl champions, but they have been in short supply of late.

    Important buildings get torn down all the time. Charles Bulfinch's Tontine Crescent and New South Church; Boston's original Masonic Temple and Aquarium; our imperious Union Station; the eye-grabbing Museum of Fine Arts on Copley Square, "Ruskinian gothic of an extravagance rarely seen," according to architectural historian Jane Holtz Kay. All gone. And we are enriched rather than diminished by their disappearance.

    When it's time, it's time. Boston City Hall, the bell tolls for thee. And as long as there are bulldozers in the area, Harbor Towers is just a short drive away . . .

    Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is

    © Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

  2. AndrewJM3D

    AndrewJM3D Guest

    While I don't hate the building, for it's use and location it needs to go.

  3. simply Dan

    simply Dan Guest

    Reminds me a little of the Sears headquarters on Jarvis or a university campus library.
  4. simply Dan:

    Yup, except this one was carved out of the city. Having been there, I must say heritage or not, I wouldn't shed any tears for this eyesore.

    Come to think of it, the building looked downright Orwellian. Ministry of Truth, anyone?

  5. wyliepoon

    wyliepoon Guest





  6. adma

    adma Guest

    Hate to say it, but I wonder if BCH is being used as a scapegoat for a broader-range, several-decades-old failure of American urbanism (even in a so-called liberal Democratic stronghold such as Boston) that may have less per se to do with the architecture (or *any* architecture) than it appears.

    If Boston "worked" more like Toronto, urbanistically speaking, I'm not sure if there'd be this degree of vitriol carrying the day; indeed, there'd probably be enough wiggle-room for a subtler next-generational Spacing/uTOpia perspective that BCH isn't evil, it's just misunderstood. (*Is* there any such Bostonian equivalent?)

    Think of how efficiently the more vociferous tear-down-the-NPS-walkways arguments were neutralized, or how efficiently the "nobody likes modernism" armchair arguments of a columnist like John Geiger were marginalized. If Toronto were like Boston, Mayor Menino's fantasies might be openly viewed as something akin to Harris/Harper barbarism. The sorts of culturati who were spooked by even the prospect of "Mayor Pitfield" would be up in arms...
  7. samsonyuen

    samsonyuen Guest

    It's so beautiful in its brutalism!
  8. ganjavih

    ganjavih Guest

    The whole Government Center area in Boston is brutal... urban renewal gone wrong... disasterous modern thinking. The same way a big chunk of the city was demolished for this crap, this crap should be demolished.
  9. Canuck 36

    Canuck 36 Guest

    Having seen it in person, the pictures don't convey its true ugliness.
  10. "I wonder if BCH is being used as a scapegoat"

    If so, it's a pretty suitable one.
  11. adma

    adma Guest

    Yeah, sure, and John Andrews' Scarborough College is a concrete monstrosity that'd be better off ripped down on behalf of something "humane".

    I'm still wondering as to what kind of Boston artsy/bohemian/cultural-class a la uTOpia exists that can team up with the usual crowd of academics and preservationists, etc for a vocal, effective, thoughtful grassroots *on behalf of* BCH, rather than this kind of clumsy populist "it's an eyesore--tear it down". Likewise, if Boston were Montreal, Phyllis Lambert would be foaming at the mouth.

    I guess, here's a hint (from the Boston Phoenix, no less)...

    How to save City Hall
    Fight or blight?
    January 16, 2007 11:27:23 AM

    DEMOCRATIC FORM: City Hall is part Picasso, De Kooning, and Arbus, part classicism

    All too many Bostonians dismiss City Hall as a windswept monstrosity. They’re the same ones, undoubtedly, who hunger for a Norman Rockwell portrait of life in the Hub. But the heart of contemporary culture is more Picasso, De Kooning, and Arbus; and City Hall, with its warts-and-all facade, captures the complex and contradictory nature of our city as filtered through the equally brilliant minds of architects Gerhard Kallmann and Michael McKinnell.

    Now comes Mayor Tom Menino’s proposal — his second in eight years — to build a new city hall on the South Boston waterfront and sell off the current building to developers, presumably for demolition. Beyond the questionable cost-benefit scenarios and concerns about public transportation, Menino’s attack on the building raises a larger question: what form should we give to our democratic institutions?

    For better and for worse, the current City Hall is as honest and powerful a portrait of the modern metropolis and its government as we are ever likely to get. That familiar red brick out of which half of Boston is built warps upward to form a new and more aggressive foundation for the city. Towering concrete columns impose order on the sloping plaza, the Parthenon reinterpreted for the age of anxiety. The mayor’s office and Boston City Council chambers poke out in twisted compositions of opaque concrete and transparent glass — doing contorted dances that suggest the nature of democracy in America. And floating above it all are the endless windows of the bureaucrats we rely on to make the city hum. It is a powerful evocation of who we are, not a paint-by-number image of what we would like to be.

    There is real beauty in those sculptural forms and majestic spaces, and over the decades friendly critics have proposed a variety of therapeutic solutions for its worst features — its dysfunctional plaza and cold interior — which could unleash Government Center’s potential.

    Hanover Street could be extended into the redbrick wasteland on one side, while a pedestrian bridge could cross over the congestion of Congress Street on the other to overcome the isolation that is one of the plaza’s real weaknesses. Adding water, greenery, and well-designed signage, as well as infilling the edges with activity-generating buildings might make it a place that connects rather than divides the city. That monolithic red-brick base could be opened up with shops and cafés that would turn the fortress-like facade into something more inviting. And opening closed entries and ironing out the lumps and bumps in the plaza would reduce the cursing that accompanies a trip from the T stop to Quincy Market. Inside, wood, fabric, and better lighting could warm the building’s cold, hard heart and create more-inviting spaces. And where’s the beer garden that Kallmann and McKinnell envisioned spilling from the interior out to the plaza?

    If Mayor Menino wants to leave a lasting legacy, it should come from improving the public realm, not selling it off to the highest bidder, only to encounter the same questions about the true face of our city on a more difficult site somewhere else.
  12. adma

    adma Guest

    Oh, and re my "John Geiger" comment above, lest we forget (from the Feb 8/06 National Post). If one considers things, the thrust parallels that in Alex Beam's column above. Generally, this kind of "pointy-heads vs real people" anti-modernist perspective gets more traction in the States...

    Tear them down
    John Geiger
    National Post

    There is a delightful irony in the fact that advocates for modernist architecture are having to band together to save examples of it from the wrecking ball. The architects of these buildings themselves had no compunction about remaking the face of cities, razing historic streetscapes to make way for their glass and concrete erections. They never cared for the wishes of ordinary people. Believing they had a monopoly on taste, they forced their will and their often brutal vision on communities. Now, 50 years on, their "modernist" buildings have in turn become old-fashioned. They have reached a critical stage in their lives, and must either be lovingly restored at great cost, or demolished. People are being rallied to protect the glass and concrete stumps. It is a call that is being greeted, understandably, with indifference. Or worse: with an austere visage much like the one the buildings themselves project.

    To fight to save a building, people have to care about it, and to care about it, they have to like it. That's the problem the clique of modernist preservationists have to confront: Nobody likes what they are determined to save. On the contrary, I suspect most people, if asked, would be shocked by the suggestion that the remaining extant examples of modernism have any historical or, for that matter, architectural value. The buildings are certainly not liked, but interestingly, they are not loathed either, any more than the air-conditioning units they resemble are loathed. They are simply there. This detachment was intentional, cultivated by modernist practitioners whose designs were meant to be alien, the product of an aesthetic scam called the "International Style."

    So, one by one, they come down. Edmonton City Hall, hailed as having brought "International Style to the Alberta capital," opened in 1957, was gone a mere 40 years later without a single preservationist placard in sight. In Toronto, the Union Carbide Building, completed in 1961 and once called "as fine an example of the International Style as we have," was razed in 1998, again without a whimper of protest. Ditto Terminal One at Pearson International Airport. The same pattern has been repeated in cities across the country. Harold Kalman's A History of Canadian Architecture, Volume II, has a chapter entitled "Modern Architecture and Beyond," filled with images of these bleak landmarks. Kalman's book will soon be about the only place you will be able to see them -- that is, if you are strange enough to want to look.

    In Toronto, there is a belated attempt by a small group of preservationists to rally public opinion. It is too late, they calculate, to save Inn on the Park, an example of architect Peter Dickinson's peculiarly grim brand of Internationalist design. Dickinson is singlehandedly responsible for dozens of truly hideous buildings, mostly in Toronto but also in Ottawa and Montreal, including the aptly named Continental Can Building. (He is the subject of an online archive that celebrates his contribution to the ruination of urban Canada. If you have a moment, it is worth a look, but not before breakfast: dickinson/index.html.)

    Toronto's modernist lovers instead have been devoting their efforts to save the former Riverdale Hospital, shown on this page. They suffered a setback last week when city council voted unanimously to approve a plan to demolish it. The preservationists are quoted in various news reports speaking in reverential tones about the old hospital's "beautiful" curving structure, and the concrete "mushrooms" that have the appearance of having sprung up around it. But we all know what makes for the most fertile soil for mushrooms. Another one bites the dust.
  13. rdaner

    rdaner Guest


    It seems they are coming to their senses in Boston. The city hall is a blight on an otherwise great downtown.
  14. Bogtrotter

    Bogtrotter Guest

    Re: finally

    I'm not fond of it either, but I'm not sure it should be torn down because the average citizen doesn't like it. Isn't this building celebrated internationally as one of the best examples of Brutalist architecture, and the centrepiece for Pei's Government Center? Like it or not it is historic architecture that defines an era in international architecture. What are they going to do, tear it down and put up a mock red brick colonial building to better fit with faneuil market...?
  15. Junglab2002

    Junglab2002 Guest

    Re: finally

    I like it, and I don't care who knows it. Future career be damned.
    For the record, I also like Robart's library, the Sears building, and Uno Prii's 77 Elm Street.
    Take that, cultural philistines!

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