letters | again, the question: What to do with City Hall?

Building is an American classic

The design of City Hall and Government Center has drawn divided viewpoints among Bostonians.
File 2006
The design of City Hall and Government Center has drawn divided viewpoints among Bostonians.

Paul McMorrow’s opinion about Boston City Hall is a common one (“Tear down City Hall,” Op-ed, Sept. 24). It is the voice of the casual observer, and is in marked contrast to the opinion of people who have spent their professional lives thinking about architecture. It is not just a “small group of modern architecture fans in Boston,” but rather much of the American design community that recognizes City Hall’s significance and quality.

The building remains the strongest expression of city government in the modern period in America, and it is something that citizens of a city where local government matters should be proud of. It would be easier to enjoy if it were better maintained and enriched with the kind of decoration imagined by its designers.

If entry to the building were made less intimidating and the free flow of space between the square outside and the court and atrium at the center of the building were restored, more people would appreciate its soaring spaces, easily as grand as the Senate chamber of the State House, Boston’s other great government space.


But even an attentive examination of the main façade reveals the building’s intelligence. The handsome City Council chamber that advances over the entrance and the councilors’ offices projecting between the concrete columns describe the structure of city government in the building’s very shape.

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As for the square, isolation itself should not be considered a weakness. The center of government deserves to be set apart. Should the square at Rome’s Campidoglio be filled with shops? That is the company Boston City Hall keeps.

David Friedman

Jamaica Plain

The writer is a professor emeritus of architectural history at MIT.