It is important to provide some context for this unique complex of buildings. Parts of downtown and the West End were razed in the late 1950s when Boston was in a deep economic slump with a rapidly decreasing population. The idea was to help rejuvenate the city through investment, starting with government facilities, and to create a new concept of centralized local government. What was designed, built, and ultimately not built on these sites knits together a narrative of social, political, and economical evolution in Boston. The Government Services Center makes a strong architectural statement about the mid-century mindset of local leadership attempting to reinvent a changing city and the important role that design played in this transformation.
Though the architectural term, Brutalism, is often misconstrued as meaning "brutal" in design or materiality, these concrete buildings were actually designed to be sculptural and an intentional contradiction to the glass and steel of the International Style popular in the postwar decades. According the the authors of Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston, these building were "Originally seen as reflecting the democratic attributes of a powerful civic expression- authenticity, honesty, directness, strength..." but eventually came to signify, "hostility, coldness, and inhumanity." This perception has been perpetuated and exacerbated, unfortunately, by decades of deferred maintenance and poor stewardship that has failed to maintain the original design features, creative playfulness, and grandeur of these spaces. Thankfully there is a growing appreciation for these designs, particularly among younger generations who seem to be able to look past the abuse these buildings have taken and see instead the creativity of the designers and opportunities that rehabilitation could provide.
Of the three planned buildings for the Government Services Center, only two were built:
1. Hurley Employment Security Building, Cambridge Street between Staniford and New Chardon (Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott, architects)- completed
2. Lindemann Mental Health Building, corner of Staniford and Merrimac streets (Desmond & Lord, architects. Paul Rudolph, architectural design)- completed
3. Health, Welfare & Education Building, New Chardon Street, 28- story tower- never built
Paul Rudolph was appointed coordinating architect for the entire site and created a unified vision with elements such as massive columns, sun shades in the courtyard, similar fenestration throughout, and the consistent use of concrete, especially the iconic bush-hammered, corrugated (corduroy appearance) surfaces that were created by hand. Critic Ada Louise-Huxtable described the design as "the most advanced form of a progressive trend that will soon be punctuating the bland, glass-walled vistas of American cities with rugged, concrete buildings in eccentric, sculpted form." Rudolph has been recognized as a leading architect of the Modernist era, serving as Chair of Yale University's School of Architecture and famously designing the Yale Art and Architecture Buildings, among many others. Rudolph studied at Harvard under Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius and alongside other preeminent architects of the 20th century such as IM Pei and Philip Johnson.
In 1999, the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse was completed on this site, near where the original tower was designed to be built. This building is a distinct architectural expression, not a fulfillment of the original intent for the site.
DCAMM (Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance), the state division that owns and oversees this property.
BLC (Boston Landmarks Commission), the agency of local government that is active in ongoing conversations about this site.
DOCOMOMO (Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites, and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement), an international advocacy organization urging preservation of this site.
MHC (Massachusetts Historical Commission)
The Government Services Center is historically significant for its team of architects, especially Paul Rudolph, its design, materiality, and architectural statement. Still today, the concrete complex stands in sharp contrast to common curtain-wall construction and the standard glass and metal we see throughout the city. The Alliance feels that the original buildings play a critical role in the landscape of Boston, telling an important story about the evolution of American design. The buildings could embrace a new life if properly upgraded. Through creative design approaches to managing fall hazards on the site, the long-standing fencing that surrounded the Hurley Building was removed in 2018 and we played a critical role in that effort. While recognizing the physical and programmatic challenges we appreciate the state's clear position to rehabilitate the Lindemann Building and urge the redevelopment program for the Hurley Building to preserve as much of the building as possible. Creative, sensitive modifications to keep the site functional relevant to contemporary needs are attainable without wholesale demolition, and there is a great desire in the community to preserve the integrity of this complex. We have been promised a seat at the table to work with the DCAMM team to encourage a solution that respects Rudolph's important work here in Boston.
Highlights from our activity log:
- November 15, 2019
A newly-formed group called Save the Boston Government Services Center Coalition launches an online petition with the mission to "protect this important piece of late modern urban design."
- November 8, 2019
The Alliance joins DCAMM for a meeting with their consultant team and other members of the preservation community to discuss next steps for the project and tour the site. DCAMM emphasizes that they are early in the process and plan to be collaborative with the Alliance and other partners as this proposal moves forward. They will soon be filing a Project Notification Form with the MA Historical Commission. Anticipating a ruling of "adverse effect" to the historic resource from MHC, the team plans to create a Memorandum of Agreement working towards a Request for Proposals, which the Alliance will assist in drafting. Though DCAMM can not guarantee what the end result will be, it was clear that the team understood the significance of the site, desired to work collaboratively, and would seek proposals that are respectful to Paul Rudolph's architectural vision. The team would prefer proposals that accomplish state goals while creatively enhancing the Hurley Building and the complex and address a variety of current deficiencies. The Alliance will remain engaged with this process as it moves forward to advocate for thoughtful preservation and redevelopment. The Alliance also emphasized the importance of investing in the Lindemann Building as part of this project to assure its continued success in this historic complex.
- October 30, 2019
DCAMM representatives reach out to the Alliance to inform us of a new plan for the site that will soon be released to the media. The Alliance is told that this relates only to the Hurley Building and that the state is committed to investing in and preserving the Lindemann Building. We are also given assurances that DCAMM's goal is for this to be a collaborative process, that they are very early and just developing an RFP, and that they want the Alliance to be involved in its development. The goal is to receive creative proposals in which preservation and modification of the Hurley Building are emphasized in whatever redevelopment occurs. Media reports follow in subsequent days and suggest that the Baker administration plans to redevelop the Hurley Building and issue a ground lease to a developer who would design, plan, and construct a new office complex. The Alliance engages in multiple conversations with members of the preservation community.
- March, 2018
The fencing project is complete and the temporary chain-link fence is removed. The Alliance immediately observes public engagement with the building, using the benches that are now accessible.
- May 8, 2017
The Alliance attends a meeting to review the new fencing proposal- water-jet cut sheets of metal with patterns inspired by the chapel inside the building. Lighting work that was previously approved will be included with this project.
- February 21, 2017
The Alliance attends a meeting with DCAMM, other members of the preservation community, and a new design team for the project. The new safety fencing above open light wells is now proposed as perforated metal panels with custom patterns. The scheme previously agreed upon was too expensive and this new proposal appears to be effective, appropriate in design, and more financially viable.
- August 22, 2016
The Alliance attends a meeting with DCAMM and the design team who ask for guidance about priorities for the scope of work on the site, including changes to the new fencing or fewer repairs to the concrete.
- November 16, 2015
The Alliance meets with DCAMM to review the proposal for new fencing, required for life safety upgrades at the site. Assurances are made that this project will be moving forward despite ongoing conversations about the use of the building. The Alliance is given the opportunity to review and comment on the design of the fencing as it progresses and is supportive of the direction.
- October 2015
The Alliance submits a comment letter (below) to DCAMM noting the division's commitment to rehabilitating the site rather than compromising it through partial or complete demolition. The letter makes several suggested edits to the language of the draft report, including more emphasis on the architect, Paul Rudolph, and the site's historic significance.
- January-February 2015
Alliance Executive Director Greg Galer attends a series of meetings with DCAMM, BLC, and others to develop a scheme for designing a railing behind benches and low walls, which are in front of deep light wells, to improve safety throughout the site so that temporary chain-link fencing can be removed. The Alliance emphasizes how much the fencing detracts from the building and reinforces negative perceptions of the design.
- November 2013
The Alliance participates in a meeting to discuss proposed changes to the Lindemann Building site and raises concerns about removing historic fabric to allow for more parking. The Alliance joined a Memorandum of Agreement to review future proposals along with the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Boston Landmarks Commission. DCAMM (the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance) is responsive and seems to appreciate the historic significance of the site, agreeing to reduce the scope of this project to protect historic features. This opens up a positive avenue of communication between DCAMM and the Alliance regarding the entire complex.