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Splashes of color enliven the gray of Boston City Hall

Brenda Van Story lingered by the main entrance in City Hall to look at garments created by School of Fashion Design students.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe staff

The dreariness of Boston’s hulking City Hall stifles joy on a sunny day. Gray concrete walls make all nine floors feel like the basement.

But this week, as visitors trudge through metal detectors, they are greeted by the likeness of a woman bedecked in vibrant yellow. She stands with another figure clad in a dress with bright blue polka dots. A third wears a glorious red cape.

Eleven brightly dressed mannequins stand on a brick stairwell rising above City’s Hall’s main entrance. The inanimate models display vivid garments designed by students at the School of Fashion Design, celebrating its 80th anniversary.


“They look like guards, fashionable guards welcoming you to City Hall,” said Kate Balug, a former artist in residence at Boston’s Office of New Urban Mechanics who came to admire the civic flair.

Balug knelt down on the brick steps to touch a strip of fluorescent pink nonskid tape. Another step had red tape, then orange, yellow, green, and blue.

The tape installation, “Stairs of Fabulousness” by artist Liz LaManche, was one of nine winners in a city contest to enliven public spaces. Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration wants to soften the edges of City Hall, a famously inhospitable structure renowned for its Brutalist architecture.

“I don’t want to say it’s depressing, but it’s not a welcoming building,” Walsh said. “It should be a welcoming building because it’s the people’s building.”

The splash of color moved Mauryn Kkira, a Jamaica Plain resident who came for a mundane task but was drawn up the stairs by the mannequins.

“Now, I don’t feel like I’m in a dreary government building that makes life suck,” Kkira said. “It makes it feel human.”ANDREW RYAN