For decades, Boston’s brutalist City Hall has been a heated point of debate among locals. Is it beautiful or is it ugly? Does it spark city pride or is it a dark spot among Boston’s vast array of historic architecture? Though widely praised when built in 1968, the now notorious, nine-story, 515,000-square-foot structure sits like an underutilized behemoth at the core of the downtown Government Center district. Many Bostonians are tired of it. Its commanding facade and dysfunctional interior layout are neither conducive to daily inspiration nor workplace productivity, some complain. But others see it as an enduring symbol of the early brutalist movement—an icon. Regardless of its aesthetics, the building’s biggest issues can no longer be ignored. Leading up to Boston City Hall’s official 50th anniversary this year, the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture has instigated small changes and proposed other sweeping updates to the building, originally designed by Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles, that could potentially bring it into the 21st-century era of civic and office architecture. In a comprehensive report conducted through the city’s Public Facilities Department, a multi-pronged planning process to introduce both design and operational improvements to the structure has already begun. The big ideas are outlined in the Boston City Hall and Plaza Study, completed in 2017 in collaboration with Boston-based Utile Architecture + Planning and Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architects. It makes the case for a top-to-bottom reorganization of the administrative and public service needs of City Hall and its 7-acre plaza through improved design. In order to engage both employees and civilians, the dark, precast concrete building needs to both open up to the community and provide more space for work. Circulation patterns need to be updated, wayfinding needs to be implemented, building systems and infrastructure should be upgraded, and accessibility should be top of mind, according to the report. In recent years, various government departments have moved out of City Hall due to spatial constraints. Utile aims to restructure the upper floors of the building and introduce shared spaces that can be used by different teams. Large-scale meeting rooms and public spaces will remain on the lower floors while the lobby will serve as a welcoming, secure, and light-filled entry for visitors and employees. Along with interior improvements, the project scope includes repairing the sprawling, brick plaza that surrounds City Hall and introducing a stormwater management system to the landscape. It will also feature new seating and infrastructure, as well as larger programming areas for sports celebrations and concerts, to make the plaza the next great civic hub for the city. Minor changes to the facilities, including a handful of pilot projects like the new exterior lighting system as well as the Boston Winter Market, started in 2016. Urgent repairs will continue over the next four years and major renovation work on the interior is expected to begin in 2020.
Posts tagged with "Boston City Hall Plaza":
Tonight, the City of Boston is getting lit. The city is opening up City Hall Plaza, the front lawn of Boston's best-known (and most-hated) Brutalist building, to food trucks, carnival style–games, and beer-swilling citizens to celebrate its latest attempt to gussy up Government Center. Attendees at Light Bright Beer Garden, this year's last Beer Garden on the Bricks, will witness a colorful light display on the angular concrete massing so deliberately stripped of ornamentation. Shaun Beacham writes: "We're sorry the building looks like a prison, but we put some lights on it and now it's a colorful prison!" A few pints in, Shaun, and it might not look so bad! The event begins at 6:30 p.m. tonight at City Hall Plaza. Can't make it? Follow
#LightBrightBOS on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
For decades, there have been plans to transform Boston's City Hall Plaza, the windswept concrete wasteland, or triumphant frame around an outstanding piece of Brutalist civic architecture, depending on your view. Now, the plaza is poised for a major makeover into a year-round leisure zone. Mayor Marty Walsh has prioritized the revitalization of the barren plaza with the launch of Rethink City Hall! Last summer, the city installed an Astroturf front lawn and solicited ideas for a redesign from Bostonians. Other plans called for an urban habitat with micro wind turbines and stormwater-collecting planters. The City has signed a three year contract with hospitality management company Delaware North (which also own TD Garden and New York's Rockefeller Center ice rink). Concept plans call for a 200-foot-tall, 42-gondolas Ferris wheel, a restaurant and beer gardens, a summertime beach, a winter garden with ice rinks, curling, and hot chocolate, as well as interactive public art installations, including a massive selfie-ready sign that spells out #BOSTON. The contract raises an all-important question: Who's paying for this? The City states that no public funds will go towards the project, although Delaware North is willing to invest more than $15 million dollars, on the expectation that it will recoup its investment in a revenue-sharing agreement with the City. Although free beer would be nice, some of the amenities will be fee-based. The proposals still need to be opened for public comment and city approval, The Boston Globe reports. To ensure the project's financial viability, Delaware North would like Boston to commit to a longer contract. The company is also seeking corporate partners to help pay for the project. Construction on the winter garden and a temporary restaurant is set to begin this October.
Sasaki Associates proposes a community-friendly Boston City Hall Plaza buzzing with cultural activities
Requests, complaints, and even full-fledged proposals came flooding in after Mayor Marty Walsh issued a Request for Information (RFI) in January for the redesign of Boston City Hall Plaza. Four months and nearly 1000 tweets later, plans to launch a complete assail on the eight-acre eyesore of red brick and concrete are beginning to consolidate. One firm, Sasaki Associates, took to Twitter to solicit ideas from Boston residents on what to change, what to axe, and what to add. The design firm then compiled the responses on cards and shared them on social media using the hashtags #PlazaPlus and #CityHallPlaza. Mayor Walsh couched his call-to-action in broad terms in his State of the Address early this year, invoking a redesign which would be “an inviting and attractive public forum that is robustly used by residents and visitors.” While one brazen submission suggested privatizing the entire plaza, Sasaki Associates zeros in on public programming and community engagement by incorporating benches, Hubway bike share stations, pop-up cafés, music festivals, food truck gatherings and public art installations. Surprisingly, the renderings do not propose any alterations to the foreboding Brutalist building itself, focusing instead on activating the exterior space. Bike lanes, an outdoor market, and lounge seating encourage passersby to convene, while a stormwater collector planter and micro wind turbines address environmental concerns. "The team is firm on its stance that while the plaza is in need of major renovations of its physical infrastructure—the underground parking roof, new pavements, fountain renovation, and tree planting, among other things—the form and circulation patterns do not need an overhaul." The Massachusetts-based practice proposed the following four guidelines for its design:
- Extend plaza into the city + leverage cultural capital
- Design for civic and human scale + populate with variety
- Preserve City Hall’s character + activate underused space
- Enhance infrastructure and natural systems + showcase Boston’s innovation
If Boston City Hall were a celebrity, it might be a fixture on tabloid “Worst Dressed” lists. The Brutalist building elicits strong sentiments from architectural observers and everyday citizens alike, but most agree the City Hall Plaza could use some sprucing up. In his inaugural State of the City address Mayor Marty Walsh called on residents to help him reimagine the barren, 11-acre brick expanse. Boston City Hall Plaza is an inductee into Project for Public Spaces’ "Hall of Shame" and rated on par with Barbie’s Dream House by California Home and Design. But perhaps the city can help elevate the windswept space. Even in a city replete with 18th-century Georgian-style churches, the plaza, built in the 1960s, has long been an architectural bane. Walsh’s administration has spruced up the interior somewhat, revamping the 3rd floor mezzanine and installing the Stairs of Fabulousness by artist Liz Lamanche to inject a sorely needed pop of color, but the Brutalist face of the building belies these improvements. The administration has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to gather the data required to take concepts from the drawing board to actualization. Last year, AN reported the municipality’s master plan for revitalization designed by Utile Architecture + Planning with Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture, but other than the replacement of the bunker-like Government Center subway station with a sleek steel-and-glass exterior, little else has been done, notes local news site Bostinno. Other plans announced last year involved replacing a labyrinth of staircases with sloped walkways to ease access to City Hall from the subway station, installing seating, and resolving frequent flooding by planting trees in an open-joint permeable brick paving system to simultaneously green the concrete expanse. Big players the likes of landscape architecture firm Halvorson Design and architecture and engineering firm HDR had signed on. This year, Mayor Walsh’s administration is sizing up plans for a city-sponsored seasonal skating rink to be named “Frozen Harbor” as well as a 20,000-square-foot, glass-enclosed restaurant called “Polar Bar”, according to Boston Herald. Officials have not made headway with securing permits and no project costs or plans have been put forward yet.
[ Editor's Note: The following is a reader-submitted response to a recent article, "Softening Boston’s City Hall." It appeared as a letter to the editor in a recent print edition, AN03_03.05.2014. Opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions or sentiments of the newspaper. AN welcomes reader letters, which could appear in our regional print editions. To share your opinion, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. ] With regard to the proposed landscape interventions in Boston’s City Hall Plaza: This welcome news brings to mind the Illustrative Site Plan prepared by our firm in 1961 (above) to accompany the Government Center Urban Renewal Plan. As our drawing shows, we envisioned the space between Tremont Street and the new City Hall not as a paved plaza but as a quiet lawn crossed by footpaths and populated by deciduous trees, in the tradition of a New England town green. As we imagined it, this was to be the last in a series of green spaces stretching from Commonwealth Avenue to the Public Garden to the Common to the Burial Ground and thence to Government Center. Had this concept been realized, the resulting open space might have been more inviting to casual use and less vulnerable to the charge of having promised a celebratory urbanity that it could not deliver. In any case, the current effort to bring the Plaza to life through strategically placed bosques of trees is commendable. Henry N. Cobb Pei Cobb Freed & Partners New York