Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Brutalist" indeed

Boston's Mayor Menino has announced a plan to sell City Hall and construct a new one in South Boston. I expect not many will shed tears over the loss. The building itself, as well as the stark, wind-swept plaza surrounding it have long been derided by residents and visitors alike. I was amused to learn that it is an example of the Brutalist style. This is an appropriate name if there ever was one, although it comes from the French béton brut: "raw concrete", not from its brutal assault on the eyes. According to Jay Fitzgerald in the Boston Herald:

The problem with City Hall Plaza “as a whole” can be traced to the guiding 1960s philosophy of its architects, Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles, who reveled in their “brutalist modern” views.

“We have moved,” architect Gerhard Kallmann once wrote, “toward an architecture that is specific and concrete, involving itself with the social and geographic context, the program, and methods of construction, in order to produce a building that exists strongly and irrevocably, rather than an uncommitted abstract structure that could be any place and, therefore, like modern man - without identity or presence.”

Brutalalist [sic] modern design distilled into brutalist prose.

Campbell and Fitzgerald come not just to bury City Hall. They do raise a few good points:

  • While the building can be considered ugly, it is a landmark of sorts.
  • It is in a pretty central location with plenty of T access.
  • Some sensible improvements to the plaza would help immensely.
  • Most importantly, can a city government be trusted to not make the new City Hall even worse?


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