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What would Denny Crane think? Boston Legal building to lose plaza to make way for shops, offices

Proposed infill of plaza at 500 Boylston St. in the Back Bay

Architect's rendering: Why is the woman in the foreground just walking down Boylston?

The owner of the 500 Boylston St. tower made famous by Boston Legal has filed renderings of the proposed "infilling" of the curved plaza it says few people use because it's too dark and windswept and too close to the more pleasing Copley Square.

Equity Office Properties needs BRA approval to replace what it calls an "unwelcoming" plaza at the 1988 building with a six-story "infill" building that would hold both retail and office tenants. The company also proposes moving the 19-story tower's main entrance from Boylston to Clarendon Street.

The existing courtyard also creates a gap in the street wall, creating a less defined urban space on Boylston Street. The new infill will introduce a continuous street wall to Boylston Street, with retail space activating the first two to three levels, greatly improving the urban experience of Boylston Street.

As for the specific design, the architects say:

The design team engaged and evolved Philip Johnson's original design by using the extensive diamond shapes and curved edges, creating a contemporary vernacular and language for the 500 Boylston Street addition that is strongly rooted in the original design.

The new addition would also come with a rooftop deck - perfect for lawyers seeking a place to relax with a cigar.

500 Boylston project notification form (28M PDF).

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Comments

ugh... Equity Office

While I find the plaza kinda useless, I'm sure it's used by some people who work in that building as a lunch spot. But other than that, it's typically empty so this might be a better use.

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If they put out more tables and chairs more people will use it. Last time I looked (which was a good while ago), they only had one table out.

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Any time I went there it was very windy and the shape of the buildings around it meant it was dark most of the day.

There's a lot of foot traffic so retail or food are better uses for the square footage than a plaza that rarely is comfortable useable.

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Agreed Cybah. I used to walk past that plaza twice daily and almost never saw anyone using it other than suited business people on lunch breaks.

They also have a point of it being windswept. Copley can be a wind tunnel to begin with, and that little plaza is just a collection zone for stuff that blows around.

I think the space could certainly be better utilized, even if its kept as an open plaza with glass walls, at least it'll be protected from the elements in winter.

Could be a nice space for some small retail outlets, kind of like in Back Bay Station, but much nicer obviously.

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it's a "suited business person" eating lunch....

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... and I've rarely seen it used. There is sort of a wind tunnel effect in the courtyard and it's extremely unpleasant. If you were designing 500 Boylston today you'd do a computer model to see what the wind would be like.

The courtyard also wasn't engineered properly, and on rainy days it occasionally drains into the 500 Boylston lobby.

A downside is that it will likely be unclear how people are supposed to get into 500 Boylston.

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I don't find them a good thing.

See nearby Mandarin hotel for the worst example. A bit of irregularity is more pleasing for me.

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Pretty soon the Pru complex will infill Boylston Street. Remember all the driveways, courtyards, and plazas that used to be around it? The last one is being killed now.

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Yes, I do, and I'm ecstatic they're all gone. Nothing says "urban" like pointless driveways and useless windswept plazas, huh? A vibrant, cohesive streetwall is vital to urban vitality. The Pru complex is stronger than ever and finally a cohesive part of the city's urban fabric.

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Maybe they've changed things (but not obviously based upon how low the head heights is on the top-most garage level), but not all driveways are pointless. Deliveries have to get there somehow - unless they're delivered by parachute and beeping modules a la Hunger Games. Trash removal wasn't addressed in the Hunger Games.

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The Mandarin's problem isn't the streetwall, but rather that the entrance is too far offset to one side. 500 Boylston appears to be much better in that regard since the rest of the building is already symmetrical.

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There's no way anyone can argue that this was better than the Mandarin that's there now:
IMAGE(https://farm9.staticflickr.com/8640/15154892673_96a7b960ed_b.jpg)
IMAGE(https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7577/15588901698_a7f4f36706_b.jpg)
IMAGE(https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5604/15588488019_f6c7d5b40b_b.jpg)

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I think my main problems there are:

1) Sidewalk is too narrow. This is even just for normal activity, but it's much worse when someone's unloading suitcases or a group is hailing a cab there. This is by far my biggest problem.

2) Giant imposing wall. There are actually some small ripples in the wall - it's not flat - but it's roughly 8 or 10 stories straight up. Maybe it would be better if it had some set-backs. (And then, people on the 4th floor could have patios to watch Patriots parades and stuff).

Picture; http://cache.boston.com/bonzai-fba/Third_Party_Photo/2008/09/29/1__12226...

500 Boylston solved these issues with the varying heights, courtyard, and setbacks. I live nearby, and rarely notice that it's a giant sky-scraper. I mostly just see the pretty (but dark and empty) courtyard and facade.

Picture; https://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/06/03/two-back-bay-office-buil...

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Your comment reads like snark. Somebody actually claims to want a world of wide sidewalks and setbacks? Yes, each building should be thought of as an individual temple tower standing in a field of emptiness, like Brasilia. Talk about "unwelcoming plazas that no one will use". You see, it's those "giant walls" of glass which are "imposing" on the landscape. Those 35 foot wide sidewalks and 20 foot setbacks, hey, bring em on!

We might as well go ahead and level Comm Ave and Marlborough Street, too, all the way to the river, and expand the sidewalks and put in ample parking? Time we updated these shabby old parts of town and get world class. Or, better still, raze the whole business and move to Houston.

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I think by setbacks the poster meant a streetwall that goes up a few stories and then the rest of the building is set back a little from the front facade, leaving some usable roof space at the break and avoiding the feeling of one huge tall wall looming right over you.

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Exactly how does this building's design relate to the surrounding buildings? I see curved lines, yes, but no "diamonds" on 500 Boylston or its neighbors, and certainly nothing like the all-glass facade with diagonal facets in the rendering.

I'm not necessarily lobbying for keeping the plaza-- it's often dark and very windy-- but the architect-speak being used to justify this design doesn't seem realistic.

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That whole area is becoming the land of little jewel boxes. Ego strokes are making developers attempt statement buildings and not 'background buildings'. Thus you get imagery like the one above. Think Apple store, Microsoft store and the like; all jewelbox-esque. I guess you could think of it as a high end Route 1?

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Yes! They should cap this facade with the old Hilltop cactus.

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Back that on Kickstarter!

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This is the same building that's being sold for $1.5 billion (sorry, Adam, not sure if you posted about this - I read it on the Globe). Per the article, the infilling project may not even happen if the new owners don't want it.

I think the cost of this building's sale is of far bigger detriment to Boston than the infilling. From the article:

“I don’t think any office building in the city has gone for that kind of money, and if they can get it, it shows how strong the market is,” said Larry DiCara , a veteran real estate lawyer at Nixon Peabody International LLP. “This is more comparable to a Midtown New York City building than a Boston building, in terms of the price point.”

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While I cant speak of how useful the plaza is, I think it makes for some nice architecture.

https://www.google.com/maps/@42.350826,-71.07466,3a,75y,144.96h,93.3t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1sGaCJXDAXmrWBg7VsX7_IuA!2e0!6m1!1e1

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...would be rolling in his grave...except no - Philip Johnson described himself as 'the joker' because he would assume any architectural language of the moment. This is a moment in the late 1980's, when post-modernism was cool. The plaza is the only good part of that building, not withstanding its mark on Boston's brief post-modern movement. The worst part of the building is its back is turned to the South End.

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Remember, 500 Boylston St. was only half of the original project proposed by Philip Johnson. The second half would have been an identical twin, just to the east, this filling in the entire block to Berkeley Street. There were enough protests back then that the eastern half was never built; another architect was hired to design the building that eventually became 222 Berkeley.

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I rarely see anyone in the courtyard when I walk by 3-4x a day. It was just a poor layout. There's only a little sun that gets in the courtyard so it makes for a dark, windy area. Not very inviting at all.

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Other than that, one of the more impressive 'architectural' renderings I've seen on UHub.

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It all comes down to money. Open plaza = no money. Retail space = money.

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This makes me sad. I worked in that building for years up until a few years ago when my company moved down the street. I miss it!

We always used that area & it used to be filled with tables and chairs. We occupied a large percentage of the building and from what I understand they never fully filled it again. Maybe that is why they no longer put out as many chairs and tables. It was a nice quick get away to eat your lunch outside while watching the world go by.

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The last time I walked by there I saw people clutching their coats tight around their necks. The sun was bright. It was spring. It felt like a gale.

My Dad worked forever at 520 Boylston, when it was the IBM building. One Christmas he decided that he would get me a Carl Yastrzemski autographed ball, so he went upstairs to ask Joe Cronin about it.

He told me the story years later and said Joe was wonderful.

If you don't know whom Joe Cronin is, or that IBM was on Boylston, you could look it up. And I don't care what they do with the wind tunnel, cause any "history" part was already gone

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But not that the area housed an IBM.

My question is more - why was Joe Cronin (at least the one I'm thinking of) at 520 Boylston?

As for this building- I use that entrance multiple times a week during bad weather to get over to the Park Plaza. That area is a wind tunnel and I have no problem with them filling it in - but I think that façade is grossly out of place on that building. the new architecture should complement the old not clash with it - thinking more of an arch or a dome (which I'm sure wouldn't be cheap). The façade is interesting - just not in that location.

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was president of the American League for 15 yrs. from 1959 to January 1974. During at least part if not all of that time, the American League offices were in Boston. Cronin lived in Osterville

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In 1960 the American League rented out part of the top floor of 520 Boylston - IBM took up pretty much the all of rest of the building - so Joe Cronin could use it as his office.

And here's an actual citation Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball by Mark Armour

The IBM building facade was kind of rad, very fifties/sixties. I've been trying to find a pic.

(Of course, what they should have left there was the Hotel Brunswick, but that's before even my time)

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I'm glad they're filling it with concrete, steel, and glass and not something stupid like grass, flowers, native plants and shrubs, and large trees (that would look beautiful and reduce wind flow). That would be really dumb.

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trees are such assholes

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This build out is a bad Idea for the public and the city.

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Lipstick, meet pig. The only thing that could be done to improve that building would be for it to meet its fate with a wrecking ball. Philip Johnson apparently just phoned it in towards the end of his career.

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