Where is the Love? The Building Bostonians Love to Hate

Boston City Hall, Rear facing Faneuil Hall, Photo Credit: Historic American Building Survey

Yelp has become quite the platform for not only reviewing restaurants, hotels, stores and everything in between, but also architecture and public spaces. Who knew? 

 Curious to see what people had to say about some of Boston’s most beautiful “ugly” buildings, I conducted a search on Yelp.

It turns out, people love the Christian Science Monitor Complex in Boston, a complex with an excellent collection of concrete buildings from around the 1970’s, but hate Boston City Hall. Who knew?  Bostonians love to hate it, while those reviewers from other states like it.

Did you know that in 1976, on a national survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects and taken by architects, critics and historians in the United States, Boston City Hall was voted as one of the ten greatest works in American architectural history? I have been saying that for years, but read it from our very own architecture critic Robert Campbell

I think Boston City Hall is one of the most beautiful buildings in the City of Boston. Let’s agree to disagree.

Yelp Reviews of City Hall:

Jeremy G. from Humble, TX – writes “THIS is the building Le Corbusier **WISHED** he had designed.”

Beans B. from Brighton, MA:  “From the wind-swept brick wasteland outside to the ridiculously narrow and uncomfortable spectator seats in the city council chamber to the lack of sufficient restrooms this building is a disaster.”

Alexandra S. from Hingham, MA: “There’s no avoiding the area for me since I walk through Boston City Hall plaza twice a day during the week. Ultimately, the sad reality is that no matter how much I’ve looked for something to appreciate, I don’t like this building.  

I’ll even go a step further and say that there is in fact nothing redeeming at all about Boston CIty Hall and the red brick environs. I finally just have to admit to myself that this is just one ugly and off-putting building and plaza.”

Sebastian Y. from Boston, MA: “A monstrosity apparently designed by angry communists, which would look more at home on the outskirts of Moscow or Minsk.” 

Hans W. from Brooklyn, NY writes:  “City Hall is a badass spaceship space palace, and it’s sitting downtown because in 1962 someone had an original idea and someone else took a chance on it.  And that’s what life’s all about.”-

K G. from Boston, MA: “I don’t despise the building itself as much as many people seem to.  I have not seen another building like it, so you can call it unique at least.”

Jack M. from Boston, MA: “As a friend of mine once said, “Boston City Hall is the ugliest piece of architecture on the planet”.

Dan B. from Newton, MA: “The Boston City Hall looks like a good design for a maximum security prison in the Soviet Union.  Except even the Soviets would never have come up with the giant concrete stilts, which causes the building’s underside to loom over congress street and the unfortunate security guards who work there.”

Courtney P. from Boston, MA: “This building is just ugly.  With architecture being one of my favorite parts of Boston, it’s so disappointing that this building is City Hall.  Please consider building something else!”

What do you think of Boston City Hall? Let’s hear your thoughts.

Roxbury: A Streetcar Suburb in Full Bloom

The Cochituate Standpipe, built in 1869

The more I explore Roxbury, the more I fall in love with it. Its colorful history is reflected in its rich architectural heritage, from the Georgian Shirley-Eustis House to the Heroic Modernism of Madison Park High School to the recently constructed Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, the landscape of Roxbury could be read as a survey in New England architecture and planning. Roxbury, like Jamaica Plain and surrounding neighborhoods was once a streetcar suburb of Boston.

Cooper Community Garden with Tour Attendees

Sam Bass Warner, Jr. in Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 traces the development patterns of the two-mile radius city that was once Boston, to the suburban metropolis that we experience today. The development patterns, the arrangements of streets and buildings throughout Boston’s streetcar suburbs are a reflection of the nineteenth arrival of the street railway and people’s aspirations of home and land ownership (Sam Bass Warner, Jr. Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press and the M.I.T Press), 1962) 15).

In the nineteenth century, the idea of living surrounded by nature and open space drove the middle class to escape the crowded city and purchase land in places like Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and in other surrounding cities and towns like Brookline and Cambridge (14). On Saturday June 25th, I attended a tour co-sponsored by Discover Roxbury and Common Boston of the gardens of Highland Park, Roxbury. This opportunity allowed me to experience the urban gardens created by neighborhood residents and also pay close attention to development patterns within Highland Park (a theme I had explored in depth in a Boston Architecture course at Boston University).

Cooper Community Garden with Attendees

Highland Park is an incredibly culturally diverse neighborhood in Roxbury and its gardens embody the resilience, passion and collaborative nature of its residents. As one resident of Highland Park noted in her welcoming statement to the group, the gardens act as a forum in which real contact can be made and dialogues rich in multicultural, ethnic and racial points of view are nurtured and fostered.

Fostering and nurturing enriching dialogues is at the core of preserving the character and history of Highland Park. The gardens were all stunningly beautiful and the gardeners were highly enthusiastic and welcoming. Their passion and determination is not only reflected in their gardens, but in the fabric of the neighborhood as well. These gardens not only act as a forum in which dialogues rich in multiculturalism are exchanged, but are also avenues for educating community members and residents of Boston on pursuing a sustainable way of life.

If you would like to explore more of the gardens of Roxbury, Discover Roxbury will be leading a trolley tour of the Historic Moreland Street District and Mission Hill on July 10th from 10:00am-12:30pm. For ticket information click here.

Garden in Highland Park


Why Boston City Hall Matters Today More Than Ever

Boston's Iconic City Hall

Boston's Iconic City Hall

Everyone who lives or visits Boston has formulated an opinion on Boston City Hall based on their interactions with the building. In recent years, there has been much debate over the future of one of Boston’s most iconic works of architecture, primarily fueled by Mayor Thomas Menino’s desire to sell the current building and construct a new one on South Boston’s Waterfront. Menino’s wishes has ignited the passions of preservationists, architects, students, and citizens who have found more than one reason to advocate on behalf of Boston City Hall and the people it stood and stands for.

Designed in 1961-1968 by Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles with Campbell, Aldrich, and Nulty, Boston City Hall will turn 50 in 2011, the magic number dictated by the National Park Service for it to be recognized as a National Historic Landmark. A National Historic Landmark is the official designation by the United States Government of a building, place, or object as possessing an extremely historical significant and cultural value for all Americans. There are some exceptions to this rule, but the mere fact that Boston City Hall turns 50 in two years is an occasion for celebration. I will be celebrating and rejoicing throughout the monumental plaza it faces as the world once looked to Modernist Boston for architectural inspiration.

Boston’s Brutalist monument to city government was designed and built during the Urban Renewal, an era that saw many sections of cities as unfit to live in, resulting in the demolition of neighborhoods and important works of architecture. New construction was thought of as giving new life to cities and putting an end to their plight. Government Center, the area where Boston City Hall is situated was known as the West End, a neighborhood with an architectural character reminiscent of Beacon Hill. A major part of the West End was razed, displacing people from their homes. The demolition of the West End along with its history was erased to make way for the buildings that stand today. Government Center, as the name suggests, is home to many of the city’s government buildings and offices. Boston City Hall is symbolic of the history of the neighborhood that was demolished and of the future of Boston. The thought of demolishing City Hall brings chills to my spine for this act to me is like re-erasing the history of the people of Boston and of what was once the vibrant neighborhood of the West End.

Like Trinity Church which gave Boston a place in the world of architecture, Boston City Hall gave the city an edge over others in modern architecture. Its groundbreaking design inspired by the works of Le Corbusier was executed in concrete, brick and glass. City Hall has inspired countless of other buildings in the city and in the country, and for this matter alone, it deserves to be respected and celebrated!

Is it intimidating? You bet! Harsh? Unfriendly? Of course! Boston City Hall makes people react to it, it makes people talk and express their emotions and feelings. It makes people think, stop and take a second look at its forms and angularity. It’s intimidating; it makes people feel small and aware of the powerful government that looms over its citizens. Boston City Hall has grown on me. I’ve come to appreciate it for what it is, a great work of art and nothing less.

City Hall brought international fame and numerous accolades to Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles, just like Trinity Church brought an illustrious, internationally acclaimed career to Henry Hobson Richardson. Trinity Church and Boston City Hall are both a product of their time, reflecting the culture that gave birth these architectural masterpieces.

At a time when great modernist works of architecture are being demolished or threatened with demolition or insensitive redevelopment, we as stewards of our built environment must become aware of the transcending power of modernist architecture. It makes sense to leave Boston City Hall where it is today for it is the diamond among other fine jewels of modern architecture in Government Center and Boston.