As technology and engineering advanced, buildings could go taller and taller, something banks loved in the Post-WWII era to showcase their wealth and stature in cities. The Old Stone Bank was a popular banking institution in Rhode Island that was founded in Providence in 1819. In 1969, the bank decided to build a new tower in Downtown Providence, hiring the New York firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon (the firm who designed the Empire State Building forty years prior) to design the skyscraper. The 23-story structure is set back from the street and is raised on a podium. The first story is marbled sheathed and serves as a base for the concrete-grid curtain wall, which blends International and Brutalist styles well. The building opened in 1972 and is today known as the Textron Tower. I think it is interesting to read architectural historian views of Modern buildings, as many despise 99% of Post-WWII buildings, but I kind of like this one.
Christensen Hall at the University of New Hampshire in Durham is a rare example of the much-maligned Brutalist style of architecture in the state. In the late 1960s, the university needed more housing and a dining hall for new students of the growing campus, but a very low budget to accomplish this. They hired Ulrich Franzen, a German-born architect (featured on here previously) who attended school at Harvard, learning Modernist principles there that would shape his career. The boxy buildings feature deep recessions to provide each student an identifiable corner and windows. The concrete frame building and engineering provide breezeways and forms that conventional buildings would not be able to accomplish. The building was completed in 1970 and was immediately applauded by architects and was featured numerous architectural publications.
Odiorne Point in Rye New Hampshire was owned by the Odiorne Family from at least 1800, when the family built a farmhouse on the land. The peninsula juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Portsmouth, and it was seen as a strategic position by the United States Government, to protect the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. With the advent of World War II, the United States Government deemed it necessary to improve the fortifications commanding the approaches to the Portsmouth Navy Yard, so the Government acquired this property and named it Fort Dearborn. Giant 16” coast defense guns and other equipment were installed to protect the coast from the impending German advance into North America. The Government acquisition on Odiorne’s Point included Mr. Odiorne’s home and 24 other properties, with many fine old homes on the coast demolished to make way for military facilities, but the Odiorne house was converted to a barracks. When The Nazi forces were beat in Europe, the fort was deactivated and all the guns were removed. In the Cold War period, the U.S. Air Force took formal possession of 45.3 acres at Odiorne’s Point in 1955, which it had been using since 1949 as the Rye Air Force Station. By 1961, the defensive use of the site was not as important, and the site was sold to the State of New Hampshire as a State Park. Today, you can explore the park and the decaying concrete batteries up close, which is a favorite excursion of mine.
I know some of you hate Brutalist architecture, but give this one a chance, its one of my favorites! In the 1960s, the Harvard Medical School’s cramped research library on the second floor of the Administration Building (1905) was not suitable for the esteemed doctors behind those doors, and a larger, modern library was required. There was one issue… They did not have any room to build a suitable library! Architect Hugh Stubbins, who always thought outside of the box, decided the best option was to close a street and build up. Reportedly the largest university medical library in the country at the time of its completion, the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is named after Francis Countway, the bookkeeper for Lever Brothers, a local soap company, who later became president in 1913. He supported his sister, Gussanda “Sanda” Countway, throughout her school years. When Francis died, Sanda Countway created the Countway Charitable Foundation in his memory. The funds collected by this foundation, including Sanda’s own donation, allowed Harvard University to build the Countway Library in his name. The concrete building features a massive atrium inside with a curvilinear staircase which contrasts the bold proportions with a sleek design feature. The library is home to the Warren Anatomical Museum, one of the few surviving anatomy and pathology museum collections in the United States, which includes some medical and anatomical marvels!
One of the lesser-known and written about examples of Brutalism in Boston is this refined, elegant take on the style, found in Downtown Boston. While many of you may dislike or even despise Brutalism, this building is a lighter version of the strong mass that we all know. The Massachusetts General Life Building was designed by Boston architect Frederick A. Stahl, who was trained in architecture locally at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and MIT. Frederick Stahl was a perfect architect for Boston, he often worked on preservation projects including the rehabilitation of the Old South Meeting House, but showcased how 1960s architecture could compliment historic forms in a big way. For this building, he re-envisioned the historic granite commercial blocks found scattered around Boston, but showcased the ability of concrete to do more for much less massing. One of the key features of the design is that the two entrances are somewhat hidden, and are recessed in 14′ wide slots where the building is connected to the adjacent historic building. This was the aim to make this structure recess and not try and command the prominent corner. In the Mass. General Life Building, tenants also included the Loeb, Rhoades & Company, a brokerage firm based out of New York, that had offices in buildings in major financial centers all over the country. They later merged with Hornblower & Weeks, a Boston based firm, who had their own building in Boston.
St. Paul’s Church in Burlington, Vermont, was organized in 1830, when Burlington’s population was about 3,500. About 55 Episcopalians met at a local hotel and laid the groundwork for the parish. In 1832, the fledgling parish dedicated its new building, a neo-Gothic limestone structure, which was enlarged multiple times as the congregation grew as the city did. In 1965, the Diocesan Convention voted that St. Paul’s Church be designated a Cathedral Church of the Diocese (one of two in the state). Just six years later, it was destroyed by fire, sparked by an electrical malfunction in the basement, leading to a new evolution of the church. At the time of the fire, the City of Burlington was engaged in massive urban renewal projects. As a part of this program, the City offered to swap the land on which Old St. Paul’s had stood for a spacious new tract overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. Although the decision to change locations was a contentious one, the parish did accept the offer. When discussing designs for a new cathedral, there was a strong desire to make a new statement in architecture, diverging from the traditional Gothic or Colonial designs seen all over the country. An international competition was held to determine the architect of the new Cathedral. The winner was the local firm Burlington Associates, now Truex, Cullins & Partners. Completed in 1973, the Cathedral is made of stressed concrete. The structure stands strong and firm, yet is welcoming. Windows provide sweeping views of Lake Champlain and the distant Adirondacks.
Founded in 1888, The Park School, one of the premier private schools in the Boston area began off Walnut Street in Brookline in half of a house. Founded by Miss Caroline Pierce, the school was officially incorporated in 1923 and named to commemorate Julia Park, principal from 1910-1922. The school occupied the former Hill Estate before the school board voted in 1967 to look for a new campus, with space to grow. James and Mary Faulkner donated 14-acres of rolling fields and woods to the school for their new campus. The Park School hired architect Earl Flansburgh of Cambridge to design the new, Modern school building. The Brutalist building allowed for large, open classrooms with the flexibility for the school to adapt as its needs changed. The school is built of reinforced precast concrete as a stack of modular classroom and office spaces with wall-length windows for more natural illumination of rooms. Since the 1970s, the school has expanded a couple more times, notably with a 1990s addition by Graham Gund. The school remains one of the most desired in the region and fits well within its landscape.
One of the most perplexing and hated buildings in Downtown Boston is the former Fiduciary Trust Building at 175 Federal Street. The building exudes 1970s Corporate Modern design, focusing on large floor plates with minimal intrigue at the exterior. Sadly, Boston has quite a bit in the Financial District, but many are getting facelifts! This 17-story tower was designed by The Architects Collaborative (TAC) which was founded by Walter Gropius, one of the pioneers of Modernist architecture. The building is hexagonal with all six sides being of different lengths. TAC had to construct a tower that avoided large utility lines, the MBTA tunnel, and street patterns, which resulted in an “urban flower” which cantilevers over the narrow base. As of 2020, plans have been unveiled that show the building will be updated and a glass-enclosed lobby installed.
The story behind Brookline’s Town Hall building is the story of many cities and towns all over the country in the 1960s-70s, that of Urban Renewal. Brookline Village was (and mostly still is) a vibrant commercial district of varied architectural styles and massing which together, create a patchwork that details the history of the city through design. Early wood-frame commercial buildings sit side-by-side to ornate Victorian-era buildings, with Modern infill scattered throughout. Brookline Village has long been the governmental core of the suburban town due to the location of the train station and its central location to the other neighborhoods. A grand Victorian Gothic Town Hall (the town’s third) was built in 1871 at the corner of Washington and Prospect Streets. Designed by S. J. Thayer, the building would easily rival any other building in town today. After WWII, Brookline and many other cities, through Urban Renewal, sought to restore the economic vitality of the governmental hub of town, by demolishing the “outdated” buildings and replace them with tall, sleek, modern structures with ample landscaping and parking surrounding. The town hired Anderson, Beckwith and Haible, a very prominent firm in Boston to design the International/Brutalist building. In the 1960s, a majority of the civic, commercial, and residential buildings around the former town hall were demolished and replaced with Modernist buildings, all but erasing the relative scale and history of that section of the Village.
The Margaret Clapp Library at Wellesley College exemplifies the evolving architectural tastes and demands for institutional growth.
The original library building is a small t-shaped structure constructed of Indiana limestone with symmetrical front facade. The Renaissance Revival building designed by the architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge was completed in 1909. The library displays a broad facade with a slightly projecting central bay with central entry, engaged columns and pilasters,
horizontal bands of Greek ornamentation and large casement windows. The style was very common for colleges after the turn of the century and was popular at institutions all over the region.
By the completion of the library, it was already too small. The college immediately added onto the rear of the library. After WWII, the college grew much larger and the library was becoming too tight for the growing collections and students on campus. The firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson & Abbott, who commanded many collegiate commissions at the time, were hired to nearly double the square footage of the building.
The 1958 addition is constructed of concrete pre-cast panels and glass which blends in with the Indiana limestone of the original building, yet is clearly modern. In 1974 while the last addition was underway, the Board of Trustees at Wellesley College voted to name the Library after the eighth President, Margaret Clapp who had recently died. Thus it was dedicated with the 1975 addition, also designed by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, & Abbott as the Margaret Clapp Library. The 1972 additions are located on the end of the west and east wings, the western being the most dramatic for its location above a circular reflecting pool and concrete brise soleils.