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Letters | The city’s sites

So-called ‘ugly’ buildings are part of city’s heritage, and deserve care

I appreciate Tom Keane’s reaction to Philip Johnson’s 1972 Boston Public Library addition and his depiction of its street presence as “simplistic and gloomy” (“Good with the bad,” Op-ed, May 7). In terms of scale and rhythmic harmony, its complement to the McKim Building fails to embody Johnson’s best work. If and how it gets retrofitted to respond to new programmatic requirements will demand, and hopefully receive, a high level of design skill.

That aside, I hesitate to characterize some of Boston’s most notable buildings of the 1960s and ’70s as ugly. The visibility, relevance, and, yes, beauty of some of these buildings requires us to maintain them, light them, and attend to landscaping and their immediate urban context.

Perhaps they could be retrofitted for changes in use, but with respect and thought.

Boston City Hall’s interior employs no softening devices, be they lighting, graphics, or programming for public use. The condition of the plaza is an embarrassment.

Images of Paul Rudolph’s State Services Center have been featured in TV commercials. Evidently someone has recognized its visual complexity, vitality of form, and texture. Yet portions of the site have been closed off with chain-link fencing or are now parking lots. Monumental and interconnecting stairs and walkways have been fenced off from public use. Even the transparency of the large glass areas between the parade of monumental columns has been sabotaged by thoughtless window treatment.


These buildings remain part of our stylistic heritage. Lack of interest, care, respect, and creative retrofit guarantee that, as Keane puts it, “ugly persists.”

Donald J. Tellalian

The writer is an architect.