Boston's Ugliest Buildings Are — Surprise! — All Brutalist

Robert Campbell asks Boston Globe readers what buildings they hate most, and it's bad news for concrete buffs.

Boston City Hall

Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell asked his readers for their most-hated buildings and, surprise, surprise, brutalism took the brunt. The concrete-heavy, '60s style of architecture favored by budding, post-industrial east-coast cities like New Haven and Providence (and especially common across the pond in the UK) hit Boston particularly hard. Pretty much every big, concrete box there made it onto the Ugliest List: State Service Center (1970), 133 Federal Street (1960), JFK Federal Building (1966), and of course, City Hall (1968).

Brutalist icons are under fire from Newcastle to Connecticut to Cleveland. Will the style face extinction in Boston too? Not so fast, says Sarah Schweitzer:

"Could it be that the buildings are not inherently out of place in Boston? That rather they are feats of imagination and craftsmanship and tragically misunderstood — the architectural equivalent of an abstract Jackson Pollock painting or a forbidding 12-tone Arnold Schoenberg orchestral work. A close look [at the State Service Center] reveals delicate theatrics, much like a Gothic cathedral. The concrete walls are chiseled to look like corduroy, stairs curve and bend around pillars and bridges like unfolded paper fans, and painstaking detail can be glimpsed throughout — a handrail perfectly molded to fit the grip of a human hand."

She must be right, or else why would its theme song be so awesome?

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  • Jim

    A big purpose of brutalism was to alienate Americans from their legacy of fine architecture, which was to express the trend of positive progress.  Brutalism was a way to sweeten and intrigue Americas with the idea that tyranny is sexy.