Signifying Government Authority

Urban Stagnation

By the 1960s many American cities, and Boston especially, suffered from urban stagnation as businesses and families left city centers for the suburbs. Cities faced sluggish economies, low investment in new construction, and an overall distrust in political leadership on the part of the people. Boston, like other cities, was in a slump, and the divide between the people and their government was growing.

In this era, architects attempted to use Brutalist architecture to reinvigorate urban living and connect people with their government. To architects ike I.M. Pei, Louis Kahn and Paul Rudolph, modern concrete monoliths built to hold government offices were a civic expression of directness, strength and permanence. Architects intended these buildings to amplify the neutral and accessible nature of government. The architecture was a way to try and re-establish trust and reliability among the people – no frills, no excess, no flimsiness. 

Their plainness suited civil service, especially in contrast to the more decorative, frilly style of the Victorian Era or Baroque Revival. 

Old City Hall

From 1865 to 1969, nearly a hundred-year span, Boston’s City Hall boasted the decorative features of Baroque Revival architecture. Since the city government relocated to a Brutalist structure in 1971, this structure has been known as “Old City Hall.”

A Turn to Concrete

Architects and city planners in charge of constructing Brutalist buildings believed these structures could reshape the landscape and in turn, reinvigorate the city and support the authority and competence of government entities. And so they began to build. Between 1960 and 1980, Boston’s landscape dramatically changed as Brutalist structures cropped up across the city, nearly all of which are still looming tall today.

See how the skyline changed due to the construction of new buildings, many of them Brutalist in design, between 1955 and 1978.

Signifying Government Authority