Helfand’s Boston City Hall

Proposed new Boston City Hall designed by Aaron Helfand. (anarchitectureofhumanism.blogspot.com)

Proposed new Boston City Hall designed by Aaron Helfand. (anarchitectureofhumanism.blogspot.com)

Details of proposed City Hall.

Details of proposed City Hall.

As I remarked in my last post, “Edges, shapes and patterns!,” Boston City Hall’s famous inhumanity came up in Tuesday’s lecture by Ann Sussman, co-author of Cognitive Architecture. At her lecture was Aaron Helfand, an architect at the Boston firm of Albert, Righter & Tittmann. Back in 2009, for his master’s thesis at Notre Dame’s school of architecture, he proposed a new design for Boston City Hall. I wrote a column about it, “Boston’s City Hall Plaza as it ought to be,” for the Providence Journal and reprinted it on the website of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which hosted Sussman’s lecture. That column is here.

It has been pointed out that successive efforts big and small to renovate Boston City Hall Plaza have been thwarted by Boston’s architectural elite in order to avoid hurting the feelings of I.M. Pei, who is still alive and who was responsible for siting the government buildings around the plaza.

Pei, who will be 100 on April 26, 2017, if he makes it that far, is probably able to rise above any bad feelings, just as the users of the buildings he designed are probably able to rise above the bad feelings caused by his architecture. But life is a struggle, for the users as well as the designers of buildings, especially in the past 100 years, and we must all cope, so I hope I.M. Pei will not be unduly distressed by my decision to republish Aaron Helfand’s far superior City Hall.

Axiometric plan of proposed Boston City Hall by Aaron Helfand.

Axonometric plan of proposed Boston City Hall by Aaron Helfand.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to Helfand’s Boston City Hall

  1. Barry says:

    I can suggest a reason to leave Boston City Hall as it is. It serves as a warning to cities all over the world as to what not to do, and is the poster child for ugly ugly modern architecture. A picture is just not the same as actually seeing how dispiriting it is and how out of touch with what people like about Boston. I was really shocked the first time I saw it, how could that happen in “conservative” Boston??
    But maybe with your wider experience you can suggest an even better symbol to keep for that purpose.


    • That’s a tough question, Barry. To save it as a warning or to rip it down, pleasing ourselves but robbing posterity of such a warning – what to do? But you sure know what buttons to press for me! I don’t know of a more brutal reminder.


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