Boston City Hall
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Architect Kallman, McKinnell and Knowles
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Location Boston, Massachusetts   map
Date 1963 to 1968   timeline
Building Type government center, city hall
 Construction System precast concrete
Climate temperate
Context urban plaza
Style Brutalist Modern
Notes brutalist monumentality, with huge dentils become external shading devices


Photo, overview across plaza

Photo, showing context





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Discussion Boston City Hall Commentary

"The winning entry in a national competition, the City Hall and its plaza are the focal points of the ninety-acre Government Center urban renewal area. . .(and) serve as the political and ceremonial center of the city.

". . . A principal design challenge was to make memorable and significant the various aspects of public contact with city government. This is apparent in the generosity of the public areas around and inside the building, in the symbolic expression of the principal functions on the exterior, and in the dignified monumentality of the overall form."

— Alex Krieger, ed. The Architecture of Kallman McKinnell & Wood. p. 20.

Programmatically, the ground floor is the most public, being primarily open circulation linking the plaza and the building interior. The brick paving of the plaza extends into the interior, and tall, open colonnades support the upper stories. Above this, the lower floors contain the most important ceremonial public rooms, the council chamber and Mayor's office, and these are expressed in an irregular composition of large concrete horizontals and verticals on the facade. The attic floors surround an interior courtyard which brings light to the lower floors and organizes a ring circulation system off of which the city's bureaucratic offices are disposed. The regular rhythm of precast vertical elements shade the windows and recall classical dentils.

— JY,

"The massing of the Boston City Hall extends a time-honored tripartite arrangement of base, body and attic, evoking rootedness to the earth and pyramidal ascent toward the sky. But the City Hall's three-storied attic is the largest mass, while the body is the most perforated. Stoic and ordered in traditional buildings, the body here is exuberant and agitated, more expressive of unique interior domains than of systemic organization. By contrast, the more typically articulated attic is highly repetitive and ordered. From some vantage points, the attic seems not only the largest of parts, but also the heaviest, poised to crush the lesser mass of the body that supports it. From other vantage points, it appears mysteriously weightless, a horizontal monolith hovering above the cornices of nineteenth-century Boston."

Krieger, Ibid., p. 12.

see also Donlyn Lyndon. The City Observed: Boston. New York: Vintage Books, 1982. p35.

The Creator's Words

"McKinnell: 'Our design philosophy has found its most complete expression in this project. It also reflects the way we work— from the specific to the general rather than the other way.'

"Kallmann: 'We distrust and have reacted against an architecture that is absolute, uninvolved and abstract. We have moved towards an architecture that is specific and concrete, involving itself with the social and geographic context, the program, and methods of construction, in order to produce a building that exists strongly and irrevocably, rather than an uncommitted abstract structure that could be any place and, therefore, like modern man— without identity or presence."

—Noel Michael McKinnell and Gerhard Kallmann. from Paul Heyer. Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America. p260.


Occupying City Hall Plaza in Boston, at Cambridge, Sudbury, and Congress Streets.

Commission won by national competition. Urban design of the plaza, including volumetric constraints for city hall, by I. M. Pei.

Sources on Boston City Hall

Donald Corner and Jenny Young. Slide from photographer's collection. PCD.2260.1012.1842.17

Howard Davis. Slide from photographer's collection. PCD 2260.1012.0405. PCD 2260.1012.0405. PCD 2260.1012.0405.

Paul Heyer. Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America. New York: Walker and Company, 1966. LC 66-22504. discussion, p260.

Werner Hofmann. Modern Architecture in Color. New York: The Viking Press, 1969. LC 72-125823. NA642.H6413. drawing of third floor plan, p465. drawing of eighth floor plan, p465.

Alex Krieger, ed. The Architecture of Kallman McKinnell & Wood. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1988. ISBN 0-8478-0939-0. LC 87-83131. photos and drawings, p22-37. photo of interior view of the South (principal) entrance hall, fA, p32. photo of interior view of North hall, fB, p35. photo of view towards waterfront, Government Plaza, and City Hall, fF, p25. photo of exterior view from Dock Square in front of Faneuil Hall, fD, p27.

Donlyn Lyndon. The City Observed: Boston. New York: Vintage Books, 1982. ISBN 0-394-74894-8. LC 81-40199. NA735.B7L96. photo, discussion, p34-36.

William S. Saunders. Modern Architecture—Photographs by Ezra Stoller. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Publishers, 1990. ISBN 0-8109-3816-2. exterior photo, p137. — A wonderful & inspiring book of beautiful photographs by a true master of architectural photography. Available at

Dennis Sharp. Twentieth Century Architecture: a Visual History. New York: Facts on File, 1990. ISBN 0-8160-2438-3. NA680.S517. exterior, interior photos, plan and section drawings, p289. — Available at

Marcus Whiffen and Frederick Koeper. American Architecture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984. p391, f314. — An excellent survey of American architecture. Reprint Edition available at

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at  Find books about Boston City Hall


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