20 Things You May Not Know About City Hall

1.  The design for Boston City Hall was the unanimous winner of a two-stage national competition, the first public competition for a city hall in the US since that of San Francisco in 1912.

2.  One of the key criteria in the selection of the winning design was the architects’ attention to satisfying the program—the list of spaces to be housed in the building, and their layout.  The program called for 346,410 square feet of space for specific, detailed functions.  For instance, there were to be thirty-six linear feet of public counter for six cashier stations in the Collections Division of the Treasury Department.

3.  Architectural teams had three months to develop a design, to be submitted as a set of drawings and calculations, for the first phase of the competition.

4.  256 entries were submitted in the competition, all anonymous in order to avoid any favoritism or conflicts of interest.  The jury selected eight of these to continue to the next round of the competition.

5.  The jury that made the final selection included prominent business leaders and distinguished architects:  Harold Hodgkinson, the chairman of Filene’s; Kelly Anderson, the president of New England Mutual Life; Sidney Rapp, the chair of Stop & Shop; Pietro Belluschi; Walter Netsch; and Ralph Rapson.

6.  Gerhard Kallmann, Michael McKinnell and Edward Knowles, the winning team members, taught at Columbia University in New York.

7.  Throughout the initial phase of the competition, the designers completed the drawings in Edward Knowle’s office at night.

8.  Amid much fanfare at the Museum of Fine Arts, the jurors and Mayor Collins unveiled the model of their unanimous selection, Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles.  Not even the winning architects knew beforehand who had won the competition.

9.  City Hall formally opened in 1969.  It was featured in many publications worldwide, including The New York Times, Architectural Forum, Milan’s Casabella and Paris’ L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui.

10.  Unlike many buildings constructed following a design competition, City Hall’s design was not radically altered during the process, but, instead, was built nearly identically to the final design.

11.  In 1969 City Hall received a national Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

12.  In April 1969, Interiors magazine declared that Boston City Hall was “the best public building of our time.”

13.  In 1970, the Boston Society of Architects presented City Hall’s architects with the prestigious Harleston Parker Award for the best new building in Boston.

14.  During Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Boston for the Bicentennial in 1976, the celebratory luncheon was held in City Hall, hosted by Mayor Kevin White.

15.  The Michelin New England travel guide gives City Hall two stars, the same ranking as Faneuil Hall, the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House.  (This is one more star than the State House received.)

16.  City Hall is classified by architectural historians as an example of what has become called “Brutalism,” a name that carries a different connotation than its original French inspiration.  In France, the term “beton brut” refers to “raw concrete”—poured concrete that is exposed instead of being covered with another finish material.  Typically, such concrete retains the markings of the formwork into which it was poured.  Great care was usually taken in the construction of these wooden forms, in order to attain a specific pattern and texture.  The original French term implies only that this building material is “natural” or “unfinished,” not that the building itself is “brutal.”

17.  Boston’s new Government Center, which includes City Hall Plaza and City Hall, was planned by I. M. Pei and Partners.  This master plan, and the competition regulations for the new City Hall, specified the new building’s location, its architectural program, its relatively low height, and the shape and size of the plaza in front of it.

18.  Although regulations prevented City Hall from featuring a mix of uses, the architects had hoped that a rathskeller might be included in the building’s basement, a feature that is typical of city halls in Europe.

19.  When the AIA Journal asked forty-six architects, critics and architectural historians to nominate the buildings that they considered to be “the profession’s proudest achievements of the nation’s first 200 years” for the Bicentennial in 1976, Boston’s “New City Hall” received the same number of mentions as Boston’s historic Trinity Church, designed by H.H. Richardson:  twelve.  These two buildings tied for the sixth-most mentions, leading to the somewhat misleading statement that City Hall was voted as the 6th most important building in the US.  (Some sense of the wide range of buildings that were proposed can be derived from the fact that only one building was mentioned by more than half of the forty-six nominators—the University of Virginia, designed by the former President, and amateur architect, Thomas Jefferson, in the 1820’s.)

20.  The design for Boston City Hall launched the architectural firm of Kallmann McKinnell and Knowles (later to become Kallmann McKinnell and Wood).  It was named the national “Firm of the Year” by the American Institute of Architects in 1984.  Among the firm’s numerous noteworthy local projects are the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, the Newton Public Library, and the University of Massachusetts/Boston Campus Center.  Internationally, the firm’s buildings include the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, the World Headquarters in The Hague of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the National Institute of Education at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.