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Henry Cobb, noted architect who ‘designed modern Boston,’ dies at 93

Henry Cobb (center) with images of Boston buildings in which he has been principally responsible. From left to right: One Dalton, Harbor Towers, John Hancock Tower and John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse.
Henry Cobb (center) with images of Boston buildings in which he has been principally responsible. From left to right: One Dalton, Harbor Towers, John Hancock Tower and John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse.

Henry N. Cobb, a renowned architect who designed several landmark buildings in Boston and was a founding partner of the Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, died in his Manhattan home March 2 at the age of 93, according to a spokesman at the New York-based architectural firm.

After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard College, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cobb went on to design several well-known buildings, ranging from the John Hancock tower in Boston to the Portland Museum of Art in Maine to the Palazzo Lombardia in Milan.

In September 2018 Cobb was featured in a Globe story under the headline “The man who designed modern Boston.”

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“Henry Cobb may be the most accomplished Boston-born modern architect," journalist Rachel Slade wrote. “Approach the city from the north, south, west, or the harbor, and you can’t miss Cobb’s vision — from his 1963 master plan for Government Center; the Harbor Towers; the John Hancock tower; the Moakley Courthouse; and One Dalton, now under construction in the Back Bay. He’s the rare figure who knew what it was like to build a skyscraper in Boston half a century ago, during the city’s first skyward reach — and what it’s like today.”

In that same Globe story, Cobb reflected on his work in designing the John Hancock tower, a 62-story skyscraper that was completed in 1976.

“By nature, I am understated. Clearly designing the Hancock did play to something in me, which is understatement,” he said. “Yet the Hancock project was also so egregious and so extreme in its flouting of the rules: Buildings should not be mute; they should not be made of mirror glass; they should not be so big in an area populated by small buildings; they should not be so intrusive. We broke the rules because we had to rescue Copley Square. We had to bring it back into the game. That’s what the Hancock did. It brought Copley Square back into the game.”

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“The confidence I had in designing this tower was a direct result of my very real feeling that I understood the problem better than my colleagues in Boston because I grew up there. I knew Boston and I loved Boston, despite the fact that I left it, and I just thought that I understood it. I’ve built tall buildings in cities around the world. In those cities I’m always a guest, and a guest does not do that sort of thing. So yes, you could say that the Hancock was a reflection of myself, at that moment, when I was barely 40 years old.”

According to his biography on the Pei Cobb Freed & Partners website, Cobb served as Studio Professor of Architecture and Urban Design and Chair of the Department of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design from 1980 to 1985, and honors he’s received include the American Academy of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for Architecture, the Architectural League of New York President’s Medal, the AIA/ACSA Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education, and the Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council on Tall Buildings in the Urban Habitat.


Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.