History of Boston City Hall


Today + tomorrow we’re coming at you with a Boston City Hall special – as we promised last week – based on Architecture Boston’s current issue tackling the controversial civic building. To start things off, we’ve got links to a number of places where you can read up on the history of the brutalist government building.


I really like these black and white photos with the overcast, bland sky, but they’re really an unfair depiction of the building. While yes, on a dreary day in the winter when there are no activities and no pedestrians, the City Hall and its surroundings are cold and imposing – on nice days it provides a decent [not great] place for concerts, festivals, political rallies, and all the other public/group events you find in a city. Does it work? Not really. Is it as bad as people say it is? Once again – not really. If nothing else, at least the city tried.

As for the BSA‘s and Architecture Boston‘s current involvement with the building – a call for proposals went out to six local Boston firms to come up with alternatives to Mayor Menino’s plans to move City Hall into a new building, and either sell/raze the current building. Rather than abandon the project, these designers are offering solutions that would improve the building’s shortcomings and propel it into the 21st century.


This monumental building was designed by Gerhard M. Kallmann, Noel M. McKinnell, and Edward F. Knowles, three Columbia University professors, who won the nationwide contest in 1962 to design the building. Their design, which was chosen out of 256 entries, revolved around the theme of creating a public and accessible character for the headquarters of the city’s government (columns and eagles were out of fashion at the time). The architects were inspired in their aim for civic monumentality by precedents as varied as Le Corbusier’s works, especially the monastery of Sainte Marie de La Tourette, with its cantilevered upper floors, exposed concrete structure, and its similar interpretation of public and private spaces, and Medieval and Renaissance Italian public spaces. Many of the elements in the design were abstractions of classical designs such as the coffers and the architrave above the cement columns. Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles collaborated with two other Boston architectural firms and one engineering firm to form the Architects and Engineers for the Boston City Hall, responsible for construction, which took place from 1963 to 1968 [wikipedia].

Great Buildings Online


Project for Public Spaces


::images from Walt Lockley::

Posted: September 21st, 2007
at 6:45am by orangemenace

Categories: architecture,urban/master planning

Comments: 1 comment


One Response to 'History of Boston City Hall'

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  1. […] Kunstler, a big supporter of New Urbanism, brings into question suburbia in the U.S., calling on architects, planners, and everyday citizens to cut the crap and demand higher quality in our physical environment. He even calls out Boston City Hall as the worst civic space in the country – tying in to our recent coverage on Boston’s brutalist government headquarters.  Watch the video – this guy is the truth. The tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work [is] … a land full of places that are not worth caring about [and] will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending. ~ James Howard Kunstler [quote via Wikipedia] […]



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