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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

GREG GALER
Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Preservation Achievement Award Winner: The BU Law Tower

October 18th, 2016  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

In anticipation of our 28th annual Preservation Achievement Awards ceremony on October 24, we are profiling each of the eleven winning projects over the next several weeks. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.


The tallest building on Boston University’s central campus, the school’s Law Tower, is an excellent example of mid-century modern “Brutalist” architecture. Built in 1962 and designed by Josep Lluis Sert, the building’s combination of a dominant concrete structure with glass, masonry, and modular elements are characteristic of the “Brutalist” architectural movement that was flourishing at the time. Along with the surrounding four modern buildings, the Law School Tower is indicative of the change being introduced to traditional campus planning throughout America in the 60s, Sert’s work at BU among the first for the Boston area. Yet it has also been indicative of the challenges to buildings of this era.

The BU Law Tower.

The BU Law Tower.

Despite being “cutting edge” design at the time of its construction, the BU Law Tower and its Brutalist peers quickly fell into disfavor. The lack of general appreciation for these buildings as well as their lack of flexibility for modification gave rise to decades without significant upgrades and maintenance with colleges and universities hesitant to invest in them but also not wanting to lose these significant parts of their modern campuses. With their worth and their ability to be rehabilitated in question their futures are uncertain.

BU Law Tower before.

BU Law Tower before.

This conundrum leaves us with a significant preservation challenge: How to preserve buildings that today may be unfavored in their neglected, outmoded form, and are therefore underappreciated and often misunderstood? (Given their typical need for major upgrades, some fifty years after construction, negative opinion is understandable.) What to do with buildings that aren’t much loved but are an important part of the story of architectural design? How do we preserve  buildings that demand significant changes to meet today’s program needs but given their inflexible                                                                                                         concrete construction do not take such change readily?
BU embraced this preservation challenge with the Law Tower and in the process broke new ground with methods applicable to other buildings of this ilk. Eager to create a progressive learning environment that invigorated a neglected space, they worked with Bruner/Cott and Associates to “imbue our twenty-first century values of community, functionality, and environmental sensitivity to ensure their longevity.”

BU Law Tower after.

BU Law Tower after.

A multipurpose fusion of community spaces and functional administrative areas has provided a reboot of the Law Tower. With harmonious new construction in the adjacent Sumner M. Redstone Building, the team transformed the interior and exterior concrete into a mellow and laid back atmosphere encouraging collaboration and communal space. With the preservation of the BU School of Law Tower, a new recognition for the “Brutalist” style buildings that surround us here in Boston has emerged. BU and its project team have demonstrated that a transformed mid-century building can become a more functional, shared space that can be a treasured addition to the atmosphere and environment on campus as well as a structure we can embrace to demonstrate that “Brutalist” architecture should be re-envisioned, not belittled.

BU Law Tower after.

BU Law Tower after.

We hope the success by BU as well as the many technical lessons learned here bodes well for the new perspective on Boston City Hall and other mid-century modern buildings in Boston.

Do you think The Burnham Building is the best of the best? Then vote for it for this year’s Fan Favorite! Vote once per day until October 24. Join us that evening at the Paramount Theater to find out if your favorite won, and to celebrate the preservation of Boston’s vibrant built environment. Tickets on sale now!

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