This page is about visions of designs on the Boston Government Center by various individuals and groups, ranging from designers to politicians. It started with designers’ varying perceptions of the Government Center’s first plans, to interchanges over management of the city hall area and eco-friendly adaptations. There has been countless visions for the Government Center ever since it opened in late 60’s. However, not all the plans have been carried out. For example, a 150-foot-tall wind turbine suggested by Mayor Menino was definitely not realized. Meanwhile, some plans like the 10-year major renovation of the city hall area have already been more than 50% complete.
There are more visions of change on the Boston Government Center than could be included in this page. More information and materials can be found in sources like the Boston City Archive. For more information on each topics below, please follow links provided.
Idea of the City Hall
Commissioned as the result of a national competition, the design of the City Hall accommodates a complex program of public access, administration and ceremony on a prominent and dramatically contoured site. The architectural language aimed at an iconic building to convey the dignity and openness of contemporary government.
The structural fabric of precast and cast-in-place concrete, designed in collaboration with the engineer LeMessurier, provided the syntax of the formal language. The imagery of the building was complex in its innovative modernism and allusion to historic prototypes, temples, palazzi and city ramparts.
Evolution of City Hall Plans
[image 1] Kallmann and McKinnell’s original “First Sketch” for the new city hall revealed in cross section their concept for a building with “trays” of enclosed space arranged around a courtyard, above a plaza running from Cambridge Street and the JFK federal tower through the building and down to Faneuil Hall.
[image 2] First-stage competition site plan depicted the new city hall among both existing and proposed buildings from I.M. Pei and Partners’ master plan. (The long, thin structures behind City Hall and adjacent to Faneuil Hall were not built.)
[image 3] Three key floorplans depicted the proposed building’s volumetric concept. The upper administrative floor forms an open rectangle, defining the building’s outline; the ceremonial spaces of the middle level were pushed to the edges of the building, around the south hall; and the main entrance level showed the open floor plan and the connections to the plaza.
[image 4] Final-stage presentation drawing of the east elevation, showed how light and shadow articulated the special civic spaces more boldly than the administrative spaces above.The dark horizontal band represented the platform that was to span Congress Street (not built), which the competition required. This broad platform provided a major entrance into City Hall from the east, in addition to the entrances from the other three directions.
[image 5] Kallmann’s complex sectional perspective study developed the interior volume of the Council Chamber at the same time that it suggested the pre-cast structure housing the building systems and also proposeed the chamber as a stepped, amphitheater-like form seen from the level below.
[image 6] McKinnell’s presentation cross section from the first stage of the competition looked north through the proposed building’s courtyard, with its large sculpture, and identified the program spaces arranged around and below it.
[image 7] Kallmann’s interior section perspective showed the proposed grand public spaces of the building’s north entry hall and the structural system of its coffered, skylit ceiling. The monumental size of this image typified the presentation drawings illustrated here, notable for hand-drawn pen and ink renderings.
Piazza del Campo
Intended as a public square similar to the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy, the plaza never drew the kind of crowds its designers hoped for, and in the 1970s much of the foot traffic it did attract was lost to the revitalized Faneuil Hall Marketplace (for more view the Planning Models – Boston City Hall Plaza page)
Globe Correspondent February 9, 2011
Faneuil Hall Marketplace considered for demolition
Shortly after City Hall’s completion, Faneuil Hall marketplace—which previously had been considered for possible demolition—was dramatically and successfully transformed for new uses. The new City Hall design and its deliberate alignment with the orientation of both Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, contributed to this memorable urban ensemble, which spanned more than two centuries, from Georgian brick to Greek Revival granite to modern-day brick and concrete.
State Service Center
The State Service Center was now an architectural complex that Bostonians love to hate. Its designs were never completed due to lack of funding. The complex was designed by Paul Rudolph to be a public space that could offer a clear and humane counterpoint to the philosophy that shaped City Hall Plaza. Rudolph’s original plan was a complex with focal point that is a 23-story tower, the “magnet” that would give direction and an important symbolic element to the Boston skyline. Each element in the courtyard was intended to create a contrast to City Hall Plaza. Rudolph hoped to stimulate different emotional reactions, ranging from a sense of shelter to the sublime feeling people get when they encounter the immense piazza and basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome.
Competition for Center Plaza office building redesign
As part of a design competition, interesting designs were proposed at Northeastern for refurbishing the exterior of the Center Plaza office building in Government Center. Koetter and Kim were the winners. Both their design and that of runners-up Schwartz/Silver Architects were interesting attempts to enliven Center Plaza’s simple, modernist lobbies by reshaping them into comparatively traditional spaces with more traditional architectural details. Koetter and Kim also added much frillery in the form of outdoor trellises, pavilions and floodlights, while Schwartz/ Silver pursued romantic notions, such as handrails that doubled as watercourses, in a series of lovely poetic sketches in ink, wash and pastel.
image credit: http://www.koetterkim.com/indexFlash.html
Government Center Garage renovation
Washington, D.C., developer Richard Rubin, who built two Boston buildings at 265 Franklin St. and 99 Summer St. without any delays or controversy, was expected back this year to undertake two additional developments. One is the renovation of the 1,900-car Government Center Garage, which would include the addition of two office floors. The project had been held up for several years because of a suit by Charles River Park developer Jerome Rappaport.
Edward Roche future of City Hall Plaza
An informal committee headed by Edward Roche, Boston’s real property commissioner, and Joseph Breiteneicker of The Beacon Companies examined the future of City Hall plaza. Its report, to be issued next month, focussed on ways to quickly make this public space an inviting place to linger.
Roche was convinced that the plaza would be much improved when the fountain, turned off 11 years ago because of a faulty design, was operating again.
The way to bring year-round life to the plaza was to provide facilities for restaurants, food vendors and other businesses, both seasonal and permanent. Although restaurants would humanize the plaza immediately, and provided rental fees to cover maintenance, a thorough redesign was needed for the long term.
Federal courthouse in the Government Center
A proposal to build a federal courthouse in the Government Center was a long-overdue solution to the problem of inadequate court space at the John McCormack building in Post Office Square.
The BRA proposed that a courthouse be built on the site of the John F. Kennedy building. There would be no loss to the city if the drab building was replaced. Construction of a courthouse would also provide an opportunity for a long-needed redesign of the vast and empty City Hall Plaza.
The Government Center site would put the courthouse in easy reach of public transportation and a short walk across Cambridge Street from the Sufffolk County Courthouse.
Plans to revitalize City Hall Plaza
Plans for a music-filled garden inspired by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma in the City Hall Plaza have been uprooted because of scheduling conflicts. In another corner, progress on a footbridge that would connect the plaza to Dock Square and Faneuil Hall have been slowed in the summer.
On August 23, 1996, nearly a dozen requests for proposals were sent to companies that have expressed interest in building and operating a hotel on a section of the plaza between City Hall and the John F. Kennedy federal building. Officials hoped to break ground for the hotel and an underground parking garage by August 1997.
Architects and trust officials also said that plans were moving along for the redesign of the Government Center MBTA station and that a number of experimental events — including an exhibition tennis match and an outdoor film series — has been held in the summer on the plaza.
In the second half of 1996, pedestrian and North End neighborhood groups had formally opposed the mayor’s plans to construct a suspended footbridge that would span Congress Street and connect the plaza’s southeast corner to Dock Square.
The project — and the mayor’s promise to one day provide pedestrians a barrier-free walkway from City Hall to the waterfront — was among Menino’s most talked about development proposals. But critics said the problems between auto and foot traffic weren’t serious enough to warrant a $3 million bridge.
Hotel constructed next to the John F. Kennedy Federal Building
The Trust for City Hall Plaza wanted to see a 350-room hotel constructed next to the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, across the plaza from City Hall.
The space between the JFK Building and the planned hotel will be expanded to the minimum 70 feet specified in the urban renewal plan. The hotel would be 24 stories, the same height as the JFK Building. The federal building, opened in 1966, completed an $85 million renovation in the late 1990’s.
City Hall Plaza renovation, mid-rise hotel and underground parking garage
A plan to reduce City Hall Plaza by a third and build a mid-rise hotel and 650-car underground parking garage on a new street cutting through it was advancing with remarkable speed and little public controversy.
Catherine Donaher, hired as the President for the Trust for City Hall Plaza estimated $20 million to $25 million would be needed for capital improvements to the plaza, not counting the garage and hotel.
“The idea is not to build a hotel at the expense of the plaza,” Donaher said. “It’s to build a civic space that people love.” Besides providing an economic engine, the hotel was aimed — along with the new street — at giving visual definition to a currently ill-defined plaza and adding life with an infusion of people and activities. The street would be part of the plaza and could be closed to cars for big events, Donaher said.
Greening Government Center Panel Discussion – On-site power, underground steam
On January 11th, the ‘Greening of Government Center’ panel discussion was held at the Boston Public Library. Robert Fox Principal of Cook + Fox Architects suggested generating power on-site as a strategy for City Hall. He said “underground steam occurring in that location would easily support a 50 megawatt co-generation plant.”
Landscape architect Chris Reed Principal of Stoss Landscape Urbanism presented a wonderful variety of simple, flexible landscape schemes which were the result of what he described as the “creative coordination of agenda.” Chris also addressed using the steam under City Hall — but not just for energy. Chris saw steam as a natural method with which to create an interesting aesthetic by releasing it intermittently onto the plaza to produce an interesting, ambient clouding effect.
image credit: http://friendsofbostoncityhall.org/photos/
Mayor Menino’s wind turbine
Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who supported revamping the plaza suggested a 150-foot-tall wind turbine for the greening project.
10-year Greening Project
In 2011, Utile Inc. a Boston architectural firm won a $54,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to redesign (which would take place over the course of 10 years) the plaza to be greener, and with more usable public space. Utile has developed the plan with the landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand. “We don’t envision creating a garden here. The plaza still has to be urban,’’ said Eric Kramer, a senior associate of the firm. “But we have to find ways to make the pervasive paved surface more accessible in a way that can still manage crowds and allow trees to thrive.’’
Instead of traditional tree boxes, the firm has worked on a design to place large amounts of soil under the brick to allow for dozens of new trees. The exact number of trees has not been determined, but they would be arranged to form a central gathering space about the size of the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade.
Government Center Garage
Developers released new images recently of two 40-plus-story towers they aimed to build on the site of the giant garage that straddles Congress Street downtown. The Government Center Garage project was a long-discussed 2.3 million-square-foot mixed-use development that would involve partial demolition of the 1960s-era, nine-story parking garage at One Congress St. in Boston. The project was starting design review with the city and its developer, HYM Investment Group, hoped to break ground and start demolition on the site in 2016.
HYM’s project aimed to connect Boston’s Bulfinch Triangle, Government Center, the West End, the North End and Beacon Hill with a near five-acre development area. At full buildout would include six new buildings with 812 residential units, 1.1 million square feet of office space, 85,000 square feet of retail space and a 196-room hotel. The first phase would be a 480-foot, 45-story residential tower on New Sudbury Street. Designed by CBT Architects, it would include ground-floor retail and 486 units above, with 64 at prices affordable to lower- and middle-income residents
“By beginning to replace a massive unsightly barrier, the proposed project will substantially contribute to improving the vitality, and the urban design and architectural character of the Government Center and Bulfinch Triangle areas,” wrote O’Brien, managing partner of HYM, in a letter to city planning officials.
The new apartment tower would feature a mix of studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Some apartments would also include either a home office or a den as well. Rental rates have yet to be determined and were likely to match luxury prices currently seen downtown. The tower would also offer a lineup of amenities. A swimming pool, sun deck, yoga studio and gym were planned for the 9th floor, while the 31st floor “will offer leisure spaces for residents with a multi-purpose room, library, and roof deck.” Wide glass panes in common living areas of the apartments would offer relatively unobstructed views of the city’s skyline and other attractions, while smaller windows would be used for bedrooms and other private space.
image credit: http://www.hyminvestments.com/projects/garage/garage.php
Government Center T-Stop
The Government Center T station was closed in March 2014 until spring 2016 for an $82 million overhaul. The project was capped by innovative landscaping and a gleaming, four-story glass headhouse designed to reshape the look and feel of dreary, windswept City Hall Plaza.
“Central to the station’s design has been the concept of a light, contemporary, and visually transparent glass element that would serve as a welcoming beacon,” wrote Dan Beaulieu, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority project manager, in a summary of the architectural plans.
The seemingly endless sets of stairs that commuters climb as they approach the T station would largely disappear, replaced by granite ramps and shallower terrace steps with built-in benches. There would also be trees, dozens of them, in neat rows around the station, irrigated in part by runoff from the station headhouse and permeable bricks that would collect ground water. The trees, Uhlig said, should lower the temperature of the plaza in the summer and alleviate the feeling of a frozen tundra in the winter.
Issariya (Izzy) Manakongtreecheep, Class of 2018