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Boston City Hall: A Modernist Creation of the Highest Order

The Boston City Hall Building in Government Center replaced the Old City Hall on School Street in 1968. It was designed by the Architecture Firm Kallmann McKinnell and Knowles in 1960. The International Modernist movement centering in Europe in the late 1910s through the 1970s saw the most prolific use of Architecture as the vehicle of liberation from Fascism through and including Communism. Post WW1 Germany presented to the world the Bauhaus school of Architecture. It's modus operandi is about opening the door to the people literally by giving access to the inside with curtain wall windows that showed there is nothing that cannot be seen by the common citizen. Two generations later the world again witnessed another War. The Allies lead by the United States proved that once again good will always win over evil. Europe was the epicenter of the rebuilding. In America the post war boom saw a robust society hungry to get back to work and build a nation depleted by the overseas combat service men in the early 1940s. Mid century Modern Architecture was the new norm. Churches, ranch houses, schools, office buildings, gymnasiums, civic buildings all shared the streamlined non extravagance functionality to quickly and effectively feed the nations growth. Swiss architect Le Corbusier's monolithic sculptural designs gave inspiration to others interested in cubist painting and sculpture. His Unite d'Habitation in Marseille France is a perfect example of a Utopian democratic residence. Boston City Hall Building designed in 1960, just after LeCorbusiers Sainte Marie de La Tourette Monastery near Lyon France, is heavily influenced by the beton brut style or (translated to English) "raw concrete" brutalist architecture. Later, Eero Saarinen's style borrowed much from Le Corbusier. Others such as Mies Van de Roe and Walter Gropis were instrumental in bringing change to the field of Architecture and Urban planning. The City of Boston in 1960 saw changes in the culture just a the other cities of America had been since the end of the War. Inventions like the television, the car, the telephone, and of course the computer changed the way people lived and communicated. Conveyance systems developed. Trains, jet aircraft, interstate highways had been coming since the cumberland gap. GI's back from the war and then off again ever five or ten years began to take a toll on American peacetime/wartime psyche. By the time 1960 came it was beginning to come together. A good economy, a young vibrant president, and a country at peace. As things go though, change comes like a broken shoelace. Communists in our Hemisphere and back in French Inochina America began to get a little "ichy." Modes of communication giving every man the information suddenly a panic can spread. As things go again, change occurs sometimes in suble but assuring ways. Next wave can gain strength at home internal strife. Civil rights abuses come to a head in the south and on all fronts. Young people coming of age during a turbulent time both at home and abroad in a convoluted war that started out as a national interest then sparked into a patriots fight for freedom and turning again into a quagmire and leaving the country altogether into the neighbor Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. It is a miracle the country has not lost faith. Optimistic and forward looking through the eye of the storm is Boston's City Hall building. As imperfect a melting pot America is not just a sum of its parts but a whole. The Picasos and Le Corbusiers and Alvar Altos have given the world its Masterworks. In Boston, we have the City Hall Building. Built to reflect the times and people in an ever changing world, Kallmann McKinnell, and Knowles fine design has given Boston to the World. Boston has had H.H. Richardson's Trinity Church, Charles Bulfinch's Massachusetts State House, Charles McKimm's Boston Public Library, and along the way we see the City Hall make the scene with its cantaleevers and sliding in and out of rectangles. It then gives way to I.M.Pei's John Hancock Tower on St. James Ave. The story goes on. And it continues to build, every day getting better. I loved working on the rederning maybe more than writing about it now, but its close. thanks for reading. I hope you learned something or had a good read. Thanks,

Nick Connors

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