With each new wave of architectural trends, past styles and preferences can seem increasingly obsolete, irrelevant, and difficult to understand. Today, many communities struggle to appreciate, much less embrace, the austere architectural modes of the midcentury modern movement. The looming concrete facades are often seen as cold, heavy, and unwelcoming; these buildings are often misunderstood. Within this context, Boston University decided to go against the grain of popular opinion and, rather than demolish and rebuild, they embraced their collection of mid-century buildings, celebrating the distinctive qualities of their architecture while integrating modern statements into a new, cohesive whole.
The Boston University School of Law is one of the great midcentury modern complexes of the twentieth century and is considered to be a seminal urban achievement of its famous architect, Josep Lluis Sert. The largest assemblage of Sert structures in the world, this group of five buildings dramatically altered traditional campus planning in America when introduced in the 1960s. The centerpiece is the 1962 Law Tower. Since its conception, so much had changed in technology and the needs and expectations of modern educational institutions that the building no longer functioned properly. The dedicated project team sensitively repaired and restored Sert’s tower, integrating a new connector structure that improved functionality, created new spaces for students, and maintained the views and visibility of the original structures both within the complex and from iconic vantage points along the Charles River. The School of Law now serves as an example of how to successfully upgrade mid-century architecture to function in a modern world while preserving its iconic features for new generations to experience and appreciate.
“The work at the BU Law Tower broke new ground in the challenges of upgrading mid-century modern buildings. Solid concrete walls, obsolete and inflexible systems, and structural elements that befuddle adaptation to modern needs, add to a public attitude that fails to appreciate these complex buildings. It makes for a challenge few would undertake,” said Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance. “Yet Boston University and their team have demonstrated that it can be done with remarkable results. Form- finished walls that frame the building as a quilt interfaces with new construction to showcase Sert’s masterpiece bringing us a new way to appreciate and find new lives for these buildings.”