A History of Concrete and Brutalism in Boston

Exposed concrete became the skin and bones of the city's civic architecture in the early 1960s.

Exposed concrete became the skin and bones of Boston’s civic architecture in the early 1960s. Like other great American cities, it suffered from a severe postwar urban crisis, prompting leaders to embark on a series of multimillion-dollar urban regeneration projects. Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (The Monacelli Press), a new book by three local architects and academics, describes the transformative period between 1960 and 1976, and explains how adapting a shared vocabulary of modern concrete architecture allowed Boston to operate as a lab for radical formal ideas. Throughout 300-plus pages, the authors posit that concrete was quite literally a choice between life and death for the city; in doing so, they present a wealth of original drawings and expansive, if academic, descriptions of the city’s Brutalist gems. Projects within pages include Marcel Breuer’s Madison Park High School in Roxbury—a lesser-known 1977 work from the famous modernist—and the 1969 New England Aquarium, possibly the most insanely ahead-of-its-time sea-life museum in the world, with its super-sized fish tank’s backdrop of ravishing exposed concrete. Although Heroic serves as an important depository, it fails to explain the public’s ongoing dismay for concrete architecture—a noticeable oversight in a time global debate over the very significance and ethics of Brutalist architecture.

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