BUILDING WATCH: Boston City Hall Up for Sale?

Boston City Hall, (Kallman, McKinnell, and Knowles, designed 1962, completed 1969, now Kallmann McKinnell & Wood Architects Inc. in Boston) may be up for sale. The Boston Globe (December 12, 2006) reports that Mayor Thomas M. Menino has refloated his 1998 idea of selling City Hall and its surrounding Plaza for private redevelopment and possible destruction by its purchaser. He suggests relocating the city’s government seat to the newly trendy South Boston waterfront.


Gerhard Kallmann and Michael Noel McKinnell were both teaching at Columbia University when they won the commission. Inspired by Le Corbusier’s La Tourette monastery and administrative buildings at Chandigarh, City Hall's Brutalist (from beton brut, or unfinished concrete) language was meant to convey openness while expressing the different forms and hierarchies of civic activities. Using a classical system of materials that ascend in 'nobility' from brick to the smoothest of concretes, the building married the oldest and newest expressions of monumentality. The gently contoured brick plaza which joined the city hall to the John F. Kennedy Federal Building (Gropius and TAC, 1966) in an urban design conceived by I.M. Pei in a 1961 competition, was envisioned as a meeting place for civic activities and an arena for outdoor performances. Boston City Hall was voted one of America's Ten Best buildings in America's Bicentennial Year (1976) and has served as the model for civic buildings in other countries. A lively debate is filling the pages of the main stream and electronic media. Champions of the building, including its own architects, recognize that its grey concrete interiors, open air atrium and blocky exterior make an intimidating impression and that deferred upkeep has kept the plaza from realizing its potential. None of this warrants even the discussion of sale or destruction of the building, a real possibility given the value of land. Moreover, detractors and champions agree that moving the city hall away from the site where the American Revolution was born ill-fits a city that prides itself as one of America's best preserved and historic-minded cities. Return to DOCOMOMO US's website for regular updates on the advocacy activities that are being readied by DOCOMOMO US and its New England Chapter.

Boston City Hall, 1970. (photo: Theo Prudon)

Boston City Hall, 1970. (photo: Theo Prudon)

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