Boston City Hall is a building people tend to either love or hate, and often love to hate. But it regularly tops lists of the best architecture around, especially brutalist architecture, and it is undeniably historic. This hulk of a building is often misunderstood and has suffered from decades of deferred maintenance, obscuring its original design intentions and frustrating City staff who work within its labyrinths. When constructed, City Hall was a monument to accessible government with Council Chambers and the Mayor’s Office protruding from the building, visible to all. As times changed, more of City Hall’s functions moved online and the rows of customer service windows that once fluttered with birth certificates and marriage licenses were no longer necessary. After 9/11, security concerns prompted reconfiguration of entrances and circulation. Advancements in accessibility requirements led to long-needed upgrades to spaces like the City Council chamber. From top to bottom, every aspect of City Hall needed attention; lightbulbs needed replacing, walls needed cleaning, offices needed updating.
Boston City Hall needed a plan. The Conservation Management Plan (CMP) involved a five-year effort by a design, preservation, and research team that culminated more than a decade of research, advocacy, oral histories, master planning, pilot projects, material testing, public engagement, and tactical initiatives by the team and leadership from the City of Boston. The CMP outlines the building’s history, design intentions, and significance while establishing policies to carefully manage the evolution of this outstanding example of concrete modernism. Supported by a grant from the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern program, the CMP is a 327-page document that gives municipal officials a road map for City Hall’s future.
The full CMP for Boston City Hall is attached below and is worth a read. It includes the history and context of City Hall’s design, beautiful images depicting the building’s artistry, identification of significant features, recommendations for cleaning, repairs, maintenance, and upgrades, and much more. As a result of this renewed effort to embrace and celebrate Boston City Hall, many investments have already been made to both interior and exterior elements of the building and plaza.
“I hear more complaints about Boston City Hall than about Boston traffic, though people spend far more time in traffic,” says Alison Frazee, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “Once you learn why City Hall was designed the way it was, and take the time to appreciate its angles and edges, it is easier to appreciate this jewel for what it is. All structures require maintenance and after decades of neglect, it’s no wonder City Hall no longer sparkles. The Conservation Master Plan is the result of a thoughtful, collaborative process to identify the most significant aspects of this historic site for preservation, and other elements that should be changed and upgraded so that it can continue to serve Bostonians for years to come.”
City of Boston, Public Facilities Department
Building Conservation Associates