Good news for City Hall haters: it could be worse.
Boston’s Brutalist centerpiece was recently deemed the world’s fourth ugliest building in an analysis of tweets by Buildworld — to the unsurprise of many locals who have chided its blocky profile for decades.
But there are, apparently, three buildings uglier than City Hall in the world — disrupting skylines and angering locals on both sides of the Atlantic.
1. Scottish Parliament Building — Edinburgh
Following a 1997 landslide vote to establish the first Scottish Parliament in nearly 300 years, a competition was held to determine the design of its new home, which would be nestled into a site just across from the 17th-century Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.
The winning design, selected from 70 submissions, remained controversial through its development and construction, as the floor plan grew and costs soared.
Today, 42 percent of tweets that mention the building are critical, according to Buildworld.
A mass of angular concrete and curved glass, the building’s “branch-shaped design” is said to harken back to early Scottish architecture and aims to mirror the surrounding landscape, according to the Scottish Parliament’s website. Designer Enric Miralles drew inspiration from the floral paintings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Construction was completed in 2004 with a price tag of more than 400 million British pounds — or more than $750 million, according to The Guardian.
Mahesh Daas, president of Boston Architectural College, said the structure is fairly well-known among architects and scholars for its complexity.
Daas said the building is not “monumental” in the traditional sense, noting that seminal buildings usually draw from scale, symmetry, and easily recognizable forms. The many shapes of the parliament “are not discernable in any one way,” he said.
He added that the fact that it made the ugliest buildings list is, in some ways, an accomplishment.
“That means that the building is noticeable, the building is being talked about,” Daas said. “The building is actually engaging people through its aesthetic characteristics.”
2. J. Edgar Hoover Building — Washington, D.C.
The waffle-walled, low-rise headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was completed in 1975, more than a decade after it was originally designed in 1963, just as Brutalism was solidifying its hold on the architectural community.
Brutalism, which emphasizes minimalist design and building materials such as raw concrete, became popular for government buildings throughout the mid-20th century. Construction of the Hoover building overlapped with that of Boston City Hall.
“It looks bureaucratic, as well as is bureaucratic. In that sense, it is maybe an expression of that bureaucracy,” Daas said of the “mountainous” structure. “It’s not a very inviting building by design.”
On Twitter, that uninviting character spurs criticism in about 38 percent of all references to the headquarters.
Lucy Maulsby, associate professor of architectural history at Northeastern University, said Brutalist buildings can create “an aesthetic unease” in their viewers. She noted that former president Donald Trump railed against the Hoover building — and Brutalism more generally — as part of a push to “make America beautiful again,” partly through architectural classicism.
“The FBI headquarters was one of the buildings that came up repeatedly as ugly, and therefore undesirable,” Maulsby said.
3. Newport Railway Station — Newport, South Wales
Blueprints for what is now the second busiest train station in Wales drew inspiration from the massive, transparent domes of the Eden Project, a greenhouse complex in Cornwall, England that was erected seven years earlier, in 2000.
The station consists of a pair of domes connected by a pedestrian walkway over the train tracks. Its glass roofs “[flood] the concourse with light” to create a “spacious” and “contemporary” feeling inside, according to Transport for Wales, the nation’s train service provider.
Its architects described the station as a “gateway opportunity not only to Newport, but to Wales herself,” and aimed for a highly visible structure.
Maulsby called the station’s design “a very different aesthetic altogether than any of the other examples” on the list. She also noted it appears somewhat “out of sync” with the traditional stylings of the region, which likely fuels the strong response from viewers.
In its roughly 15 years, the building has been nominated for a Carbuncle Cup (a once-annual award for the “ugliest building,” bestowed by Building Design magazine), seen expansions (to the ire of locals), and required repair for a leaky roof. Buildworld’s analysis found that the station is criticized in about 26 percent of all tweets about it.
Bloody newport station. Coffee shop at one end, toilets at other end. The new building is bloody ugly as well :(— Ed Davies (@edstudentbrewer) October 20, 2010
4. Boston City Hall — Boston
The design for City Hall was selected from 256 submissions during an international competition held in 1962.
Its architects hoped to create an approachable civic hub for Bostonians.
Locals and visitors continue to debate their success. According to Buildworld’s analysis, the building is criticized in roughly a quarter of tweets mentioning it. Yes, just a quarter of them.
I just checked what beat it out and nope, Boston City Hall is uglier than the Scottish Parliament, FBI HQ and an ugly Welsh train station.— Andrew Bernard (@andrewjbernie) January 23, 2023
Ugliest building in the world, confirmed. https://t.co/EuccBS9AVk
People talk about how ugly Boston City Hall is but I think it's fitting. In some regard, everyone dislikes the government. It's a necessary evil. It's not pretty. It's ugly work. Maybe their buildings should be, too?— DJB (@danajaybein) January 25, 2023
Maulsby said it’s difficult for her to separate City Hall’s form from its political ambitions.
“Even if we are critical of elements of that moment in Boston’s history, it was a building that was meant to be inclusive. It was meant to engage the public,” she said. “It’s lack of success in communicating those ideals and making them accessible doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad building.”
Daas said the rough textures, like raw concrete, must be used with “great craft and great purpose,” which City Hall’s designers “achieved with mixed success.”
The building’s unusual form — isolated from the road and lacking a clear entrance — makes it physically as well as thematically inaccessible, he added.
5. Preston Train Station — Preston, England
Criticized in about 20 percent of analyzed tweets, Preston Train Station was also nominated for a Carbuncle Cup in 2017. At fifth place on Buildworld’s list, it came in just behind behind Boston City Hall.
Critics have taken issue with the station’s late-19th- and early-20th-century expansions, whose steel and glass walls flank and absorb the more traditional 1838 construction.
Maulsby said the station’s inclusion in the list was somewhat surprising, calling it “remarkably uncontroversial to me.”
“There must be reasons that people don’t like it,” she said. “I have to say I can’t really see what those would be.”
Daas said he has not seen the station in person, but agreed based on photos that “banality is a better description than ugliness.”
Boring design can be an even greater sin than an openly ugly one, he said..
“The opposite of beauty is not ugly. The opposite of beauty is banality,” Daas said. “Or nondescript, indifferent buildings. And the opposite of ugly would also be that.”
The next 5 ugliest buildings, per the Buildworld list:
6. Verizon Building, New York
7. Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang, North Korea
8. Watergate complex, Washington D.C.
9. The Denver International Airport, Denver
10. Trump Tower, Las Vegas
Daniel Kool can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dekool01.