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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Updating Mid-Century Modern – the Christian Science Plaza and its Less Successful Cohorts

January 30th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Courtesey of Google Earth

The Christian Science Plaza is one of the city’s most successful pieces of planning and architecture.  Fie on those who deride all mid-century modern construction. This area of the city not only works but is beautiful and successfully integrates the 1894 & 1906 church with I.M. Pei’s 1970s vision for a place of both self-reflection and public gathering. I remember even as a teenager finding the tranquility of the reflecting pool, the quiet lapping of the water over its edge and how it frames the building reflections and sky inside it like a living painting.  An amazing place to which I have long felt a personal connection, despite the fact that the Christian Science church is not my spiritual home.

So, how does the city evolve and adapt when changes are proposed at such a special location?  Just a few years ago the Alliance (before my time here) played a central role in that question when changes were first proposed.  We were active in making the Plaza a Boston City Landmark, not to halt all changes to but to provide a level of protection that would prohibit wonton, careless, and thoughtless changes.  Just as the site itself promotes thoughtfulness, it deserves a pensive, well though-out process that can allow for evolution without damaging what is truly special about this place to the city and its character.

Paul McMorrow looks at the success of the Christian Science Plaza, intimates some appropriate concern about changes here, as is appropriate since it “works” so well, and notes how the Christian Science Plaza’s success compares with the less popular and less successful mid-century modern City Hall, Lindemann-Hurley Complex, and the JFK Building.  He raises valid questions why the first big project is at the most successful site of the mid-century modern cohorts.

So I say, how do we provide the appropriate level of protection for these buildings which capture an important period in the architectural and physical development of both Boston and the nation, but do so in a way that allows for an appropriate level of change there to make these structures function better (internally and from the outside). Preservation needs to apply different solutions to different situations.  This is not a one-size fits all business. City Hall and its neighbors are certainly no Christian Science Center.  But that doesn’t mean we should reject them wholesale.

The Alliance looks forward to continuing the challenging dialog on mid-century modern.  These buildings are not easy on so many levels, and that’s what makes discussion of their future so exciting. They present a great opportunity to discuss core values in historic preservation.


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