Posted November 15, 2018

Cool Stories: "The world's ugliest building" turns 50

Still controversial, the Boston City Hall is also hailed as a triumph of brutalism.

In the mid-20th century, Boston was in a financial and cultural rut — and needed a jolt. Flush with $40 million in federal funds, the city cleared some 1,000-plus buildings — obliterating a historic but increasingly seedy and squalid neighborhood known as Scollay Square — to make way for a new government center. Its centerpiece was a dramatic new City Hall. It was a bold, ambitious statement by a city aiming to turn a corner.

While it was not without controversy or detractors, the building was nevertheless hailed as a grand architectural achievement. In a WGBH-TV special from 1968, host Michael Ambrosino gave a glowing review of the city's new, modernist structure and the sweeping plaza surrounding it.

"Boston gambled, and they won," Ambrosino said. "The plaza not only presents City Hall, but it extends right into it. City Hall is the backdrop and we’ve gotta look closely at it to sense the mood it creates on the plaza."

I recently spent a chilly, sunny November morning asking passersby to describe the mood they felt the building created on the plaza in 2018.

"Mildly oppressive," said Becky Cumberland.

"Sad," said Ernesto Martello, who has lived in Boston for 34 years. "That building is not beautiful. How do they build that in a beautiful city like Boston?"

Visiting New Yorkers Nicole Friedlander and Brittany Haiduk both said that it looks "like a jail."

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