Since 2006, the city of Boston has been one of the central venues for the sometimes heated discussion regarding preserving modern heritage, in particular Brutalist-style architecture. And the discussion has gotten even more heated since sustainability has been added to the conversation. Boston City Hall is at the same time one of the most beloved buildings in Boston and one of the most reviled. Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles designed the building and its plaza in 1962 and construction was complete in 1968. Boston City Council’s Special Committee on City Hall held a public hearing Tuesday evening in City Hall to consider the financial and environmental benefits of greening the current City Hall.
There are several different factions in the city and in city government regarding the disposition of City Hall. One faction believes the building is so ugly and so inefficient that it must be demolished and a new one built in its place. Another faction believes the building is so unfriendly and inefficient that City Hall should move (perhaps to South Boston where the new Convention Center is) and let market forces determine what becomes of the current City Hall building. And yet another faction believes that the building is an icon and like any other building, it can be retrofitted sensitively to achieve everyone’s goals and needs.
The public hearing was well attended by the latter faction including sustainability and modern heritage experts who presented a variety of design ideas and philosophies on how to “green” the site. The hearing was called by Councillor Michael Flaherty who eloquently opened the session by declaring his desire to keep City Hall right where it was. Councillor Flaherty also had a very solid grasp on the environmental benefits of saving existing buildings. Unfortunately he was the only Council member present, so I am not sure if that was an overt signal of the rest of the Council’s opinion on the topic. I certainly hope not.
I think we will continue to hear more and more on this topic and not just in Boston. In Washington, DC next week there is a public hearing to determine the fate of I.M. Pei’s Third Church of Christ, Scientist. This may very well become the defining architectural topic of our time.
Below is the testimony that I presented at the Boston City Hall public hearing. The testimony was prepared by me and Rebecca Williams, Field Representative at the Northeast Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:... Read More →
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