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Our brutalist tower that never was

Brutalist tower

The only reason City Hall is the most hated building in Boston is because most people somehow manage to completely ignore the Government Service Center on Cambridge Street between Staniford and New Chardon.

But the building, which houses various government offices, such as the Lindemann Mental Health Center, would have been harder to ignore under architect Paul Rudolph's original plans, which called for a 23-story tower - all intended to be part of what we now call Government Center, rising from the remains of old Scollay Square.

Ironically, Rudolph incorporated design elements as an answer to the vast, unforgiving sea of brick that was City Hall Plaza - undulating steps and benches that were supposed to draw people in:

Steps at the Lindemann Center

Rudolph began designing the center in the early 1960s. The tower was canceled in the 1970s - after the building meant to surround it was finished.

Steps at the Lindemann Center

Library of Congress collection of photos and drawing of Rudolph's Boston work (from which the above photos were taken).
The dream behind Boston’s forbidding Government Service Center.
More photos.

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Comments

The building isn't easy to like, but anything that was interesting about the building has been made worse by the state neglect of the building.

- Parking put over the plaza along Staniford and Merrimack Sts.
- Fences put up all over the place, where ever there is seating to keep out the homeless.

I like the way the building (or more correctly the surrounding plaza) has organic lines.

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As I recall, the fencing was installed because there was a 12-foot drop behind the benches, meaning if you sat on top of them, as many people do, instead of with your feet planted on the ground as designed. One too many people fell down in there and either died or nearly did.

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Also not sure if either building (City Hall or Gov't Service Center) has ever been washed. Concrete gets dirty, especially in a city with lots of auto traffic and exhaust.

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Several years ago, the library at UMass Dartmouth was renovated, in keeping with Paul Rudolph's original design, with a modern flair. Lots of light and color and now a pleasant building to be in. We can do the same with the this building and City Hall.

https://www.mass.gov/service-details/umass-dartmouth-claire-t-carney-lib...

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No thanks. Looks like shit(every single thing built currently does) I love govt center as is. At this point its aged an unique on its own and doesn't need generic 'update'.

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85% of UMASS Dartmouth is crumbling, UMASS Boston is even worse! Have you ever been in UMB's main library? They put the plastic tarp over the books every two years. The building systems crumble and let in water. Every two years they need to weatherize the building.

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So I worked in the Hurley Bldg for a few years. The fence is actually up due to an insurance issue. A homeless person fell over a 4 1/2 foot wall into the parking garage under the structure - and also someone running from the police hopped down there and also died. The State's solution? Put up and keep up the ugly fence.

The building has also had the rock like structure fall and hit people walking by.

The inside of the building isn't much better than the outside, it leaks, there are no windows on the fifth floor (5th floor was original built to house large servers), the air quality was/is horrendous and there is a huge rodent problem.

There was once a survey conducted while I worked there to have contractors come in a give there opinions on what could be done with the building to make it better. Basically the consensus was nothing - it would need to be a complete tear down - but due to all the stone on the structure the cost would be astronomical.

Last fun fact - if you look at the building from above it resembles the outline of the State of Mass - which makes for an interesting inside layout.

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Looks like the Ministry of Truth or something.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flak_tower. Boo hoo for me using Wikipedia here. Sorry.

There was (maybe still is) a patient ward for people with mental health issues on the top floor of the existing building. I was up there on a weekend once with one of the doctors many years ago. A tad spooky at dusk to coincide with Cybah's story on the doors to nowhere.

That being said, this complex is a colossal waste of space in the downtown core of the city.

The mid and upper level army air force officers of WWII who saw what they could do by destroying Europe's cities and watching them rebuild came here and then whacked New Haven, the West End, Scollay Square, good chunks of Hell's Kitchen, the New York Streets (probably needed) and had huge designs on Charlestown and other areas of old Northeast cities. Downtown Pittsfield looks like Silvio Conte was throwing millions of urban renewal at it. The stuff that didn't get knocked there is actually where the people congregate, not in the 1960's section.

With the 1960's construction you got places that people from the Harvard GSD love to fawn over. I know one guy from the GSD who said the most beautiful building in Boston was the parking garage at Beach and Lincoln Street in Chinatown; the one with the restaurants on the first floor and the parking above. To each his own.

In reality with the Government Services Center you get spaces that you hope don't slip and fall on the weird steps, state workers getting free parking, an architectural frog (look it up) and all in all ugly ass buildings.

Time for the wrecking ball. Stop wasting urban space with concrete. Have a mass of building for living, working, and sensible open space and let some state rep's sister have to pay for parking.

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Definitely easy to see the defensive influence in the architecture. Interesting to see a perspective based on peoples' experiences and prediction of future needs.

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was the parking garage at Beach and Lincoln Street in Chinatown.

I think that's the place I picked up/returned a Zipcar a couple of weeks ago. Hideously ugly and dirty, both inside and out, not to mention a nightmare getting into and out of, both on foot and driving. Not the building's fault, but I also just knew (and it turned out to be so) that I'd end up driving around in circles, through nightmare traffic, for half an hour just trying to find the only possible way to get back to the entrance to the garage through all the one-way streets.

--gpm

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for MegaDoDo Publications.

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especially with a mental health ward in there. Room 101!

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I personally love Rudolph’s buildings. But I’m an architecture nerd.

I agree about the neglect.

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I've seen pictures of the completed complex. It was a nice design for the 1960s. Now it looks like something out of a bad 1950s space ship movie.

A few years ago, someone posted about this.. I can't remember if it was here or on aB, but someone replied and said they worked in the building and says there's all these doors and staircases in the existing building that go nowhere because they were suppose to connect to the tower that was never built.

I also agree with the comment below, this could be an architecture wonder if the state kept it up and not ignored maintenance like we do everywhere else in this state.

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Leonardo DiCaprio can be seen running down one of those undulating stairways to nowhere in "The Departed". Movies filmed in Boston love bizarre buildings like this.

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Looks like the Federal Reserve building.

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The Fed is metal clad and looks like a robot forgot something, but inside they have a lot of very nice sky-lit spaces for people to have meetings and events and for people to circulate and congregate, much like a college campus building.

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The problem with the current building is that it looks so filthy. Can't it be power washed or something?

And what's up with that giant frog face that was built into it? Was that somebody's idea of a joke? Imagine going to the Lindemann for mental health services and seeing THAT.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/djmatt/30982289781

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IMAGE(https://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/statebldgmerimackfrog.jpg)

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Was that horrid brown grey concrete a feature of these buildings because it would hide the nicotine and tar buildup from indoor smoking that plagued a generation of office workers?

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At a job I had in the 80s I was once deemed "anti-social" by an incompetent psychologist who was brought in as a consultant. She based this solely on the fact that she observed I sat somewhat apart from my co-workers in a common space. What her limited, unenlightened view did not take into account was that all of said co-workers were smokers, and I did not wish too be near the cigarette smoke. Simple as that.

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The existing building with the Lindemann MH Center is a perfect example of how to make a mental health facility hostile, scary, and foreboding to those with mental illness. The walls are sharp and jagged. Looking up at the building, you see giant hostile frogs (especially if you already have paranoid delusions).
www.wajs.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Wide-Logo-2-of-54.JPG

The architecture is so blatantly ill-suited for its intended use that it was a case-study in one of my urban studies/architecture classes in college.

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The existing building with the Lindemann MH Center is a perfect example of how to make a mental health facility hostile, scary, and foreboding to those with mental illness.

I've read that was the goal -- they were hoping that people coping with mental health illnesses would see some comfort in a building as complex as they saw the world. Obviously a ridiculously bad idea in retrospect but at the time enough believed that theory to justify the building.

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One afternoon, I was looking for the Unemployment Office. I went into City hall looking for directions. The Greeter at City Hall directed me to the ugly building two blocks away. She was correct.

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Glad you found what you were looking for, but there are a lot more than one ugly building within two blocks from (sh)city hall.

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I don't hate City Hall but I do think that they could do a lot to improve it. Me, I would add more plants. I wish that there were some tall trees scattered around the building, and I would put as many plants on the roof as I could - not just gardens, but I would put trees up there as well.

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...when City Hall Plaza was far more inviting, with plants and fountains, and people congregated there. See this 1973 photo (and dig the fashions too):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_City_Hall_Plaza#/media/File:MIDSUMM...

At a later point it got a reputation for being cold and barren.

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Nice photo. Less ugly than nowadays. But still butt-ugly.

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Lots of lots to park in underneath the behemoth.

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IMAGE(https://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/plan.png)
          ( see it larger )
The Library of Congress collection includes a 1963 drawing of Rudolph's original plan for City Hall Plaza. Can you spot the piece that's missing?
   IMAGE(http://www.universalhub.com/files/uhub215_0_0_1_1.png)
The plaza was intended to extend across Congress Street, providing a safe and inviting pedestrian connection from the modern Government Center, to the historic, tourist-attractive area on the other side of the busy street.

IMAGE(https://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/bridge.png)
IMAGE(https://elmercatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/chp.png)

Over the years, proposals for "fixing" City Hall Plaza have included completion of the pedestrian connection, but for one foolish reason or another, it's always been rejected.

Vast sums are expended to construct bridges for motor vehicles. Spending a tiny amount by comparison for crucial pedestrian facilities would provide a manifold of benefits.

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The amount of time the walk lights allow to get across Congress street was cut by 5-10 seconds when Mayuh Mahhty came in - and now it is barely enough for people who walk 3-4 mph to make it without running (meaning tourists and chair users stuck in the middle for another cycle).

Shameful.

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Apparently the fountain leaked and never worked quite right from the beginning, so it was neglected. Menino had the whole thing filled in with concrete. (Fixed it!)

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.... a shame the tower was never built. I’ve always liked Brutalist style. The Fascist style municipal buildings in Italy are stunning. I was in awe of the rows of Stalin era public housing outside Berlin.
To each his own but compare these to the glaring glass and chrome mega towers sprouting up all over Boston. To me, those are truly offensive.

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The Stalin era towers are now the poor part of town. Nobody wants them, People like the prewar pre Commie era stuff better. Better street layouts, better transportation, better humanity.

Ireland got smart and knocked their urban renewal towers in Ballymum (As in "I see seven towers but only see one way out"- Running To Stand Still by U2) and went more low to the ground.

Then again, if you want ugly Stalinesque towers, there is always the projects over by Alewife and Bay Tower in South Boston to keep you happy.

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Stalin era architecture is absolutely not brutalist(at least in Russia) It's neo-classic and stunning. It was probably the last bastion of quality architecture, before modernist hacks took it over worldwide.

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I always enjoy how much Adam hates City Hall. Personally, I love it, it's big and bold and unusual. It also suffers from 50 years of deferred maintenance.

The Rudolph buildings up the street are really beautiful in a different way. But have suffered even more from neglect. There are amazing spaces in there, soft flowing stairs, skylights and built in planters. Nothing that today's architects would design because it is all too high maintenance.

In Boston we are in a kind of over practical phase where everything is about maximizing parking and minimizing design to save money. Look at the proposal for the Hub on Causeway tower in today's Globe--they are literally hanging the building out over the sidewalk to cram more space in. That's way more depressing that people trying to be visionary and maybe not quite making it.

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I for one enjoy the buildings over the sidewalk. If it adds usable space, great. But I walk up from North Station to Cambridge St in bad, or at least rainy, weather fairly frequently and I like all the spaces were I can walk with some protection.

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Before the last market crash the state was considering putting a building in this spot, which is now a small park behind the Lindemann Center. Basically they remembered that it was part of the original Gov't Center plans, and somehow they could just cite that and build. I assume it would look different, but if they already have those plans in a drawer somewhere we might be in for a treat.

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go into the chapel. It's not normally open to the public, but the way the light works inside it is stunning.

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It's not normally open anymore because a mental patient immolated himself on the altar.

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Ironically Brutalism is becoming brutalized by the cars parking on the steps and ruining the organic lines... This building is indeed totally inappropriate as a mental health center but it has amazing, imaginative details even in its diminished state. Going up the stairs onto the plaza has real architectural drama, rare in conservative old Boston. This building could contribute a lot to the city with some rework.

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Architects can be selected because of the budget proposal for the project meets government expectations. How a project budget is presented gets more consideration over aesthetics of design.

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City Hall's appearance is nothing a few hundred thousand dollars worth of weathered brick veneer can't fix.

BOOM.

Faneuil Hall 2.

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you were going to say a few hundred thousand dollars worth of trinitrotoluene. That would be my preferred solution.

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Of the lasting influence of this de-humanized style. Traces of this infect almost every one of these cookie cutter condo blocks that are going up everywhere around town. Which are kind of a Brutalist Lite - cheap knockoffs that maintain the blocky soullessness, but without the boldness and imagination of the originators.

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An AA meeting was held in a room in this building where there are dead planters. The planters have soil but nothing grows in them. Probably due to no maintenance as mentioned concerning other aspects of the building.

The meeting was in a room that did have an openness to it. So the room could pass for an open hall.

Entering the building felt like entering a place from which one never returns. To complete the feeling all that was needed was above the doorway, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." What an irony in a building concerned with mental health.

Why the lack of maintenance though? Perhaps related to why infrastructure is now failing. Decisions made years ago to abandon cities and relecting politicians whose campaign slogan boils down to "No taxes, No government." Elections that continue to play on the no taxes, no government mantra.

An urban environment costs more to maintain than a suburban or rural environment. When we want to add life time pensions including social security, medical care for poor and elderly, higher than 3rd world wages and lots of toys (replacing cell phones every 3 years is not cheap) the cost of living is not cheap. The more complicated our society with infrastructure, evolution of classes, need for social supports, the higher the cost in the one thing that everyone shares: cash.

Perhaps everyone who can pay more in taxes should. But there is one group of people who benefit far beyond in simple balance sheet wealth. They are the wealthy whose wealth buys them influence and power.

We can't assign a taxable value to influence and power. But we can assign a taxable value to income. So those who are wealthiest and therefore have the greatest influence and power, owe to everyone else a higher share of their wealth going into maintaining keeping the nation strong.The wealthy CEOs of profit and non-profit organizations and government agencies, the inheritors of great wealth, the people who were fortunate enough to combine their native skills with the luck of support, being in the right place at the right time, etc., for their net worth and income to grow from middle class to wealthy, also frequently enjoy benefits exponentially greater than middle class. Therefore they owe to the larger nation a share of their wealth that matches the benefits they enjoy.

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Decisions made years ago to abandon cities and relecting politicians whose campaign slogan boils down to "No taxes, No government." Elections that continue to play on the no taxes, no government mantra.

I thought we were discussing buildings in Boston, Massachusetts. When the hell has any politician around here even said we should have 'no taxes, no government', never mind getting elected and re-elected with that as a strategy.

You kind of lost me there.

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Is how poor a use of downtown land this is. The FAR for this property is 2. IOW, if the whole site was covered, it would be a two-story building. In Downtown Boston! (The Federal Reserve building isn't much better, but at least 4.5, the Hancock—or whatever we're not calling it now—is 25; see here.)

While I don't mind this sort of brutalist architecture, I do mind a suburban office park taking up this land downtown. Given property values, the state and the Feds should do what Uncle did with Volpe over in Cambridge: sell off the property to the highest bidder and get them to build you a new (and more dense) office building. If you want it to be brutalist, fine.

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(Asking for a friend.)

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For those of you who do not know what FAR is, it is Floor To Area ratio. That is if you have a FAR of 1 and you have a 40,000 SF lot, you can build 40,000 SF of building. FAR of 2.0 on a 40,000 square foot lot, means you can have an 80,000 SF building, and so on.

As far as the Federal Reserve goes, it is time for at least the "open space" along Summer Street to go. What a great place to have a street car switchback for the Summer Street light rail line that needs to be built as opposed to a....gondola.

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That open space is there for a reason.

Remember the Oklahoma City Bombing? Before that there was street parking and a drive up on that section. I used it a couple of times when picking up friends who worked there.

I remember walking over and waiting for my friend who worked for the Fed to come down and head to lunch in early May, 1995. I noticed that they had closed off the drive around, put up no parking signs along the edge, and there were federales lurking in the area. Dude in an 18-wheeler pulled into the empty parking spaces, hopped out, and was immediately surrounded by guys with guns. He had ignored the no parking and no standing signs at his peril.

It was tense for a minute or two.

Sometime after that, they permanently closed the drive up area, took over the parking spaces, and bumped it out to create the current buffer zone next to the building. It is great for pedestrians moving through the area - benches and little gardens.

However, I cannot forget the purpose that it serves - it keeps crazies from pulling up to the building and detonating trucks. I really don't think they will ever let anything near that side of the building again.

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Have you ever been to this site Ari? Go there during the day. Learn something. A Mental Health Ctr does not equal Volpe. The state needs to find a new home for the mental health center. Do you have the cash for that?

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No one wants to hang out in an ugly expanse of fake stone (except for I guess skateboarders!) Concrete is not what makes people feel comfortable and welcome.

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I feel warm and fuzzy when I am in or around brutalist architechture. Concrete is my favorite building material and I wish we had more residential structures in the city that use it.

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I think you're very much in the minority on that. But luckily, we can have both! Concrete building, surrounded by plants.

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A few years ago I found some other online articles about this building, which unfortunately aren't all easily available today:

"The Architecture of Madness" from Metropolis magazine:
https://installations08.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/brutilism/
This link has the first part of the article, but unfortunately the link "for full article go to" is no longer working, and I was unable to find it elsewhere.

"Architecture of Insanity" from Singapore Architect magazine:
https://slideus.org/philosophy-of-the-money.html?utm_source=singapore-ar...
Complete the Captcha and click on Confirm to download a PDF. The image is small in the PDF file but you can enlarge it to make it readable. (Without downloading, it's too tiny to read on screen.)

"Concrete Therapy" from Harvard Design magazine:
http://www.harvarddesignmagazine.org/issues/40/concrete-therapy-paul-rud...

I once heard that cost overruns were a major reason for failure to complete the project. Supposedly Rudolph wanted a more "battered" effect on the concrete surfaces so he had workers batter them manually with hammers, increasing the labor costs significantly. I believe the McCormack Building at 1 Ashburton Place was erected to house the offices that were supposed to have been put in the tower of this complex.

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It was planned for where that park behind it and the garage for the Lindemann Center now sit. As I said before it still could happen.

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It's not tbat bad looking. And it would have completed the project. Government Center has always looked like it wasn't completed, like a puzzle with missing pieces.

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