Transforming Boston’s Skyline in the 21st Century

Posted March 21, 2014 by Andrew Luke in Business
Downtown Boston Skyline

It has been more than a quarter century since the last significant change occurred to alter the skyline of the city of Boston.

In 1987, the office tower complex at International Place was completed in the Financial District, including the 600-foot tall centerpiece structure. Designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee, the postmodern skyscraper at One International Place is currently the fifth-tallest building in Boston. It and the smaller, but more distinctive adjacent tower at Two International Place, are prominent fixtures on the skyline from Boston Harbor.

A decade earlier, Boston’s skyline was strikingly altered by the additions of Hancock Place and the Federal Reserve Bank Building in back-to-back years. Added in 1976 and 1977 respectively, these 2 buildings brought drama and unmistakable design to the city’s silhouette.

The Hancock soars to 790 feet, a shimmering giant cloaked with more than 10,000 reflective, blue-tinted, glass panes. The minimalist tower was lauded for its modernist design at the time, winning a National Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects for designer Henry Cobb.  Boston’s tallest building houses 60 floors of commercial office space.

The Hancock was a tough act to follow, but Boston’s Federal Reserve Bank Building was a distinctively different structure. Architect Hugh Stubbins’ design is often referred to by Bostonians as “the washboard”, due to the dozens of aluminum spandrels that run between its two end cores. The 614-foot building also has a unique opening at ground level, providing a see-through view for commuters on their way to nearby South Station.

Boston’s two other landmark buildings were completed six years apart more than 40 years ago.

Pietro Belluschi’s simple but manifest design yielded the Boston Company Building at One Boston Place in 1970. An example of the use of structural expressionism, the 601-foot office tower is a downtown landmark known for its diagonal exterior bracing.

Boston’s signature building is the Back Bay’s Prudential Tower. The tallest in the city at the time of completion in 1964, the 52-story glass and aluminum structure has been described by critics as “boxy” and “energetically ugly”. The Charles Luckman Partnership-designed tower, however, is a much-loved part of Boston’s identity, affectionately known as The Pru to residents.

Millennium Tower Boston

Millennium Tower Boston has invigorated the city’s downtown neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Millennium Partners.

50 years later, Boston is preparing to double its number of super-600 foot buildings, which will drastically impact the skyline for the first time in decades. A large part of the legacy of newly departed Mayor Thomas Menino, skyscraper development is burgeoning in the city.

New York-based developer Millennium Partners is at the forefront of this movement with the $630 million Millennium Tower Boston. The project has invigorated the city’s downtown neighborhood with the promise of architect Blake Middleton’s 625-foot gleaming, ultra-modern residential tower.  The sleek, glass-sheathed, high-rise complex will be Boston’s 3rd tallest building when completed in 2015.

Soon to follow Millennium Tower will be the 800-foot South Bay Tower, a 691-foot tower at the Christian Science Plaza, the 621-foot South Station Tower and a 600-foot structure as part of the TD Garden Towers expansion in the West End.

This is a near-seismic shift in the historical attitude of Boston toward high-rise buildings, which were typically opposed in the name of preserving the city’s historical identity. This outlook changed under Menino, who stressed the need to look to the future and prepare for the demands of Boston’s growing population and thriving economy. Given the unprecedented changes fast approaching for the city’s skyline, that future is looking up…way, way up.


Be the first to comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.