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Architectural Style Guide
One of America’s oldest continuously occupied cities, Boston is made up of buildings constructed in many different ways over a period of more than three centuries. New architectural styles appeared while others became old-fashioned and died out, but sometimes buildings in different styles were built at the same time. Familiarize yourself with the styles of various periods and the city’s layers of history will explain themselves to you as you stroll through any Boston neighborhood.
Unpainted post and beam construction. Buildings often have gables and overhanging first floors with decorative brackets or pendant ornaments; casement windows have diamond panes, doors have decorative patterns of nails. No public or commercial buildings in the style survive.
- Paul Revere House, 19 North Square, North End, architect/builder unknown, c. 1680.
Symmetrical facades of brick or painted clapboards display such classical details as dentils along the roof line, monumental pilasters or quoins at the corners. Doors are paneled with rows of glass panes alongside or above. Windows have double-hung sashes with 6, 9, or 12 panes of glass.
- Old State House, 206 Washington St., architect/builder unknown, 1713.
- Old Corner Bookstore, 1718 Washington St., architect/builder unknown, 1712.
Originally an apothecary shop with residence above.
- Shirley-Eustis House, 33 Shirley St., Roxbury, attributed to Peter Harrison, 1747-51.
Built by William Shirley, Royal Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony (Photo: Tim Sackton)
Federal Style 1780-1830
A lighter, more delicate version of the Georgian style, featuring attenuated classical columns or pilasters, fan lights over doors, Palladian windows, and flat facades divided horizontally by narrow stringcourses.
- New State House, 24 Beacon St., Beacon Hill, Charles Bullfinch, 1798.
- New North Church, now St. Stephen's Catholic Church, 401 Hanover St., North End, Charles Bullfinch, 1804.
- 55 Beacon Street, Beacon Hill, Asher Benjamin, 1808. (Photo: Timothy W. Larson)
Revival Styles 1830-1920
The use of stylistic motifs from far away times and places, often applied to new building types using modern construction methods, to create buildings with romantic historical associations.
Greek Revival 1820-1860
Simpler, more robust and monumental than the Federal style, Greek Revival buildings were often constructed of Quincy granite or brick with granite details and featured Doric columns supporting triangular pediments. Wooden buildings were painted white and resembled small Greek temples. Buildings in this style linked the ancient democracy of Greece with the civic ideals of the young American republic.
- Quincy Market, Alexander Parris, 1825-26. (Image: from Josiah Quincy’s History of Boston, 1830.)
- 59 Mount Vernon St., Beacon Hill, Edward Shaw, 1837.
- 2 Dane Street, Jamaica Plain, architect/builder unknown, c. 1840.
Italianate Style 1840-1855
Bold classicism applied to a variety of building types, from severe gabled blocks to asymmetrical aggregations of cubic forms. Buildings often featured paired or arcaded round-headed arches, protruding balconies, square towers, and deep, overhanding cornices punctuated with prominent dentils or lively jigsawed brackets.
- Boston Athenaeum, 10½ Beacon St., Edward Cabot Clarke, 1849. An academic interpretation based on Palladio's Palazzo da Porta Festa in Vicenza.
- McLauthlin Elevator Building, now condominiums, 120 Fulton St., North End, possibly Daniel Badger, 1863-69. Arcaded openings in a cast-iron façade.
- 9 Myrtle St., Jamaica Plain, architect/builder unknown, 1847.
Second Empire 1860-1875
A style of city planning as well as architecture, the Second Empire style was inspired by the grand boulevards and ostentatious public buildings of Paris as rebuilt under Emperor Napoleon III. The mansard roof with dormer windows is an essential component, and large structures often feature a projecting central pavilion, sometimes with flanking side pavilions. Much of the South End and Back Bay was built up during this period with brick mansard-roofed row houses, their continuous cornice lines creating unified streetscape vistas.
- Boston City Hall, 45 School Street, Gridley J. Fox Bryant and Arthur Gilman, 1861-65.
- Rowhouses, 3-11 Columbus Square, South End, 1867-68.
- 5 Brewer Street, Jamaica Plain, architect/builder unknown, c. 1865.
Romanesque Revival 1870-1900
Characterized by thick, roughly textured walls of warm-toned stone or brick, pierced by deeply recessed round arches and window groupings edged with bands of contrasting color. Facades and roof lines are often irregular; attached cylindrical towers are capped with conical roofs. A popular style for impressive public buildings such as court houses, churches, armories, and railroad stations.
- Trinity Church, Copley Square, Back Bay, H. H. Richardson, 1872-77.
- Flour and Grain Exchange, 177 Milk Street, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, 1892.
- Police Station & Fire House, 941-955 Boylston St. (955 now owned by the Boston Architectural College), Back Bay, Arthur Vinal, 1884.
Gothic Revival 1830-1945
Through the incorporation of such medieval elements as windows with pointed arches and stained glass, flying buttresses, crockets and gargoyles, buildings were intended to evoke the Christian Age of Faith. Used primarily for churches and collegiate buildings in the 20th century.
Early Gothic Revival 1830-1870
The playful use of Gothic, or "Gothick," motifs, such as steep gables, pointed arches, carved bargeboards, and crenellation, to embellish picturesque structures with literary and historical associations.
- Bowdoin Street Congregational Church, now the Church of St. John the Evangelist, 35 Bowdoin St., Beacon Hill, attributed to Solomon Willard, 1831-33. (Photo courtesy of David Martin).
- "Carpenter Gothic" cottage, 71 Sydney St., Dorchester, architect/builder unknown, 1850-70. (Photo courtesy of the Dorchester Athenaeum)
- Warren House, 130 Warrent St., Roxbury, architect/builder unknown,1846. (Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library)
High Gothic Revival 1865-1880
Inspired by the writings of John Ruskin, highly decorated buildings featured asymmetrical massing enriched by banded brick walls, colorful terracotta ornament, patterned roof slates, and fanciful ironwork, often in a Venetian Gothic manner.
- New Old South Church, 645 Boylston St., Back Bay, Cummings and Sears, 1874.
- 15-17 Essex Street, Cummings and Sears, 1875.
- Young Men's Christian Union, 48 Boylston St., Nathaniel J. Bradlee, 1875.
Later Gothic Revival 1880-1945
A more academic version of Gothic preferred by architects who had studied European prototypes, especially English rural parish churches. Buildings are characterized by simple massing, low roof lines, towers instead of steeples, and exterior surfaces of rough stone or half-timbering.
- St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 14 Cushing Ave., Dorchester, Henry Vaughn, 1888.
- All Saint’s Ashmont Episcopal Church, 209 Ashmont St., Dorchester, Ralph Adams Cram, 1892.
- Parker Hill Branch Library, 1497 Tremont Street, Mission Hill, Ralph Adams Cram, 1929.
Queen Anne 1870-1890
Often quaint and picturesque in the extreme, the Queen Anne style was used primarily for domestic buildings or for public buildings with “arty” or even bohemian associations. Massing is highly irregular, turrets and porches appear in unexpected places, and such decorative details as bay windows, balconies, stained glass, brackets, patterned shingles and terracotta plaques are varied and abundant. The sunflower is a frequent motif.
- Boston Art Club, now the Snowden International School, 150 Newbury Street, Back Bay, William Ralph Emerson, 1881 (Image: American Architect and Building News).
- 130 Mount Vernon Street at River Street, bottom of Beacon Hill, Clarence H. Luce, c. 1885.
- 137 Mount Vernon Street, West Roxbury, c. 1896.
Stick Style 1860-1890
A transitional style between the Gothic Revival and Queen Anne, the Stick Style can be identified by steep gable roofs with cross gables, decorative wood trusses, overhanging eaves, and patterns of horizontal, vertical and diagonal boards (stickwork) applied to the wall surface.
- 40 Greenough Ave., Jamaica Plain, c. 1885.
- Cary Maternity Cottage, 55 Dimock St., Roxbury, Cummings and Sears, 1872.
- Joseph Hankey House, 5 Eliot St., Jamaica Plain, c. 1874.
Shingle Style 1880-1910
Irregular in massing like the Queen Anne style, but without the abundance of fanciful ornamentation. Roof and walls are covered with continuous, naturally weathered shingles that flow uninterrupted around corners and projections and sweep down roofs and dormers to create an enclosed unified shape consistent in texture and color.
- Boylston Congregational Church, 207 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain, S. Edwin Tobey, 1884.
- 55 Hastings Street, West Roxbury, 1905.
- Sophia G. Balch House, 16 Mountview St., West Roxbury, Duran and Jackson, 1901.
Exotic Revivals 1835-1930
Some Victorian architects searched for inspiration in remote locations. Although a minor architectural note in conservative Boston, buildings in exotic styles add a cosmopolitan flair to the urban fabric.
- Hotel Victoria, 275 Dartmouth St., Back Bay, John Faxon, 1886 - Moorish Revival.
- Mt. Auburn Cemetery Gateway, Cambridge, Jacob Bigelow, 1832, rebuilt 1842-43 - Egyptian Revival.
- St. William’s Church, Dorchester (demolished), Edward Sheehan, c. 1912 - Spanish Mission style (Image: Dorchester Atheneum).
Colonial Revival 1876-1960
Stimulated by the 1876 Centennial of the nation’s founding, many architects became intrigued by the architecture of the American colonial and Federal periods. Colonial Revival (also called Neo-Georgian) was a popular, widespread, and long-lived style for both homes and public buildings, especially government buildings such as post offices. Historic motifs were freely interpreted and often exaggerated for novel effects.
- Kirstein Business Library, 20 City Hall Ave., Putnam and Cox, 1930. Inspired by the central pavilion of Bulfinch’s Tontine Crescent of 1794.
- Library, now owned by the Codman Square Health Center, 210 Codman Square, Dorchester, Charles Bateman, 1904 (Image: Dorchester Atheneum).
- 143 Mount Vernon St., West Roxbury, c. 1900.
Beaux Arts Classicism 1885-1930
The culmination of all the classical revivals, buildings in the Beaux Arts style feature symmetrical massing, flat roofs, and a hierarchy of interior spaces expressed externally by a rusticated ground floor, grand entrance portals, and large windows on the elevated first story. Grandiose examples have ambitious decorative programs inside and out, with sculpture, carving, decorative ironwork, and classical columns, balustrades, cartouches, and other details, often executed in grey granite to a high degree of finish.
- Boston Public Library, Copley Square, McKim, Mead and White, 1888-95.
- South Station Terminal, 700 Atlantic Ave., Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, 1986.
- 303 Commonwealth Ave., McKim, Mead and White, 1895.
Art Deco 1925-1940
A self-consciously “Modern” style imported from France, Art Deco ornament employed bold sweeping curves, stepped forms, chevron patterns, the ziggurat, the fountain, the sunburst, stylized floral ornament, and other Jazz Age motifs. Buildings, especially the new skyscrapers, have flat facades and stepped set-backs. “Moderne,” a slightly later related style, used streamlining to further simplify architectural forms.
- United Shoe Machinery Building (now The Landmark), 138-164 Federal St., Parker, Thomas, and Rice with Henry Bailey Alden, 1928 (Image: Colliers International).
- Paramount Theatre, 549-563 Washington Street, Arthur H. Bowditch, 1930-1932. (Image: Peter Vanderwarker).
- Mary E. Curley School, 493 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, Halderman and Goransson, 1931.
Mid-century Modernism 1938-1980
Also known as the International Style, Modernism pioneered in Germany prior to WWII and was brought to the United States by architects fleeing the Nazis. Buildings have radically simplified functional forms that employ steel frames, flat walls and roofs, glass curtain walls or strip windows, and a “less is more” attitude towards ornament.
- Gropius House, 68 Baker Bridge Road, Lincoln, Walter Gropius, 1938 (Image: Boston Public Library).
- John Hancock Center, 200 Clarendon Street, I.M. Pei and Henry Cobb, 1973.
- Prudential Center, 800 Boylston St., Back Bay, Charles Luckman & Associates, 1959-65.
A strongly-expressed sculptural architecture composed of large-scale, angular geometric forms, blunt details, and exposed structure, often constructed of pre-cast and poured concrete.
- Boston City Hall, City Hall Plaza, Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles, 1969.
- Government Service Center/Lindemann Mental Health Center,19 Staniford Street, Paul Rudolph, 1966-71.
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy Office Building, City Hall Plaza, The Architects Collaborative, 1961-1966.