Boston’s Most Controversial Buildings Prove That Concrete Can Be Beautiful

Boston’s Most Controversial Buildings Prove That Concrete Can Be Beautiful

Boston, city of charming Colonial-era brick rowhouses lining narrow cobblestone streets. Not exactly the place you’d expect to incubate a modern design revolution. And yet, when Brutalism first came to the US, the hard-edge architectural movement took its firmest hold here.

The new book Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston by Mark Pasnik, Chris Grimley and Michael Kubo explores how Boston became an unlikely home for many of the world’s great concrete buildings.

As Boston attempted to modernise after World War II, the city stood at a crossroads: Many of its historic structures couldn’t serve its growing population. The “New Boston,” as it was termed, was authored by a stellar roster of talent who remade many of the city’s most popular civic and public spaces. Architecture greats Marcel Breuer, Henry N. Cobb, I. M. Pei, Paul Rudolph, and even the progenitor of Brutalist style, Le Corbusier, came to build in Boston.

Although the controversial style has not won over all Boston residents — the polarising design of Boston’s City Hall remains a contentious dinner party topic — there’s no question that Brutalism helped to revitalise the ageing city and orient it firmly towards the future. Here are some greatest-hits from the book.

Boston University skyline

Photo: Phokion Karas

Church Park Apartments and circular garage

Designed by The Architects Collaborative. Photo: Wayne Soverns Jr.

Photo: Wayne Soverns Jr.

Peabody Terrace

Designed by Sert, Jackson & Associates, 1962 — 64. Photo: Phokion Karas

Madison Park High School

Designed by Marcel Breuer & Associates, 1967 — 77. Photo: Nick Wheeler, Courtesy of the Frances Loeb Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Design

Holyoke Center

Designed by Sert, Jackson & Associates, 1958 — 67. Photo: Phokion Karas

Cecil and Ida Green Center for Earth Sciences

Designed by I. M. Pei & Associates, 1959 — 64. Photo: Mark Pasnik

State Street Bank

Designed by F. A. Stahl & Associates, Pearl Street Associates, 1960 — 66. Photo: Phokion Karas

Government Service Center

Designed by Paul Rudolph, 1962 — 71. Photo: Robert Perron

Charlestown Branch Library

Designed by Eduardo Catalano, 1967 — 70. Photo: Mark Pasnik

Boston City Hall and Plaza

Designed by Kallman, McKinnell & Knowles, 1962 — 69. Photo: © Ezra Stoller/Esto

Photo: Mark Pasnik

Top image: Government Service Center designed by Paul Rudolph , 1962 — 71. Photo: Mark Pasnik