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Why do some developers want to turn Boston into Houston-by-the Sea?

[An ugly building]During the "Massachusetts Miracle" of the early and mid 1980s, downtown Boston experienced a building boom perhaps not seen since the creation of the Back Bay in the 19th century. Although some of the new buildings were designed to fit into their Boston surroundings (notably Rowe's Wharf), others were designed by people who seemed to regard Boston as a blank slate on which to build grandiose glass and steel towers. This can work in a place like Houston, where all the other buildings are like that. But Boston is a 300-year-old city of brick and block and detail. Look at the picture at the right. Especially in the large version (click on it for that), it doesn't even look real - it looks like somebody took a picture of the Old State House and then did a particularly bad job with cut-and-paste in Photoshop.

This is not to say glass buildings can't work in Boston. Take, for example, the Hancock Building. But that building works because architect I.M. Pei designed it not as a squat, angry invader gobbling up the surrounding cityscape but as a thin mirror that draws your attention downward to the delights of the Back Bay (in particular, Trinity Church).

At the same time, brick facing is no guarantee of success. Lafayette Place in Downtown Crossing was a brick-encased fortress, a suburban shopping mall that says to the rest of the neighborhood: "Go away." Fortunately, Bostonians listened and today Lafayette Place is a shuttered failure that shows the dangers of trying to turn Boston into another Atlanta (unfortunately, the thing still stands, as big a blight on Downtown Crossing as any of the former smut parlors of the Combat Zone).

Copley Place is another suburban shopping mall dropped in the middle of the walking city, with blank walls and dark underground-parking entrances that serve as moats against the teeming masses of the Back Bay and the South End. Unfortunately, it seems to be successful, largely due to the old adage of "location, location, location." It sits atop a Massachusetts Turnpike exit that lets the suburbanites drive in and "experience" the city without ever actually stepping foot in it (they can even walk to the nearby Prudential Center by way of a human hampster tube over Huntington Avenue that is depressingly reminiscent of similar structures found throughout downtown Atlanta).



Hansi on April 13, 2004 11:46 AM.

Don't forget Millennium Place and the Ritz Carlton Towers. Right on the Common no less! Now they want to do a similar building right on Washington St across from the Paramount theatre. Why why why do they keep trying to turn Boston into Dallas or Houston? Why are the citizens so clear in what we want but ignored again and again? Why is the mayor and BRA so oblivious? Lets get it straight once and for all: in Boston, glass and steel bad, brick and stone good. I'm not saying buildings cant be "modern," but they should definately say Boston.

JS on December 3, 2004 11:55 AM.

Ahh the old "Houston-by-the-sea" analogy...very original. I've never understood why Bostonians are so afraid of change. If a city is to be a great city, it must change and evolve; denying this, would result in death. If you prefer to live in a dead city, try Buffalo or Detroit. If you want a museum, try Olde Sturbridge Village, or Plymouth Plantation.

E on December 16, 2004 10:03 AM.

Don't forget the Ho Chi Minh Gas Tank.

Lisa on November 2, 2005 04:54 PM.

Boston = Old and Busted
Vancouver = New Hotness

Jason on December 13, 2005 09:05 PM.

I love you BOSTON very much! This is the one of the cool cities in all over the world.

I was a student in Boston and I fell in love with this city. I will always love and miss this city :)))

Gasan from AZERBAIJAN on January 18, 2007 06:41 AM.

Luckily, the ugly architecture hasnt taken over the city. You can still see the custom house tower from afar. Dont forget the beauty and imagination that went into the 1970s John Hancock Tower...It is Late Modern and reflective of the old, beautiful 19th century buildings surrounding it it Copley Square (I wish the buildings you mentioned could have paid such homage!)

Carl on August 7, 2008 04:58 PM.

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