Boston’s Timeless Architecture

By Bailey Mcgrath

Having grown up right outside of Boston, I’ve always understood that all of the buildings around me are part of history, and some are the oldest architecture in the country. A fair amount of the homes in my hometown have small plaques next to their house number that read the years that they were built. The entirety of my town center is a historic district. I can clearly recall driving past Boston College when I was little and believing wholeheartedly that it was a castle.

Gasson Hall, Boston College, Charles Donnagh Maginis, 1913

Since starting design school, I have learned about the styles of these buildings, the architects that built them, and some of the challenges that came with constructing them - making me appreciate walking around downtown Boston that much more. Here are some of my favorites:

John Hancock Tower during construction in 1971

The John Hancock Building, known as the tallest building in Boston, was designed by the great I.M. Pei and completed in 1976. I recently found out, that when the building was first constructed it swayed far more than what was considered safe. Because of this, the 500 pound windows were popping out of their frames and falling into the street below. This issue, was resolved and the building still remains integral to the Boston Skyline today. The building won the American Institute of Architects’ National Honor Award in 2011.

Trinity Church

Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, Trinity Church was completed in 1877. The windows of the church were designed by Edward Burne-Jones and created by William Morris. Richardson has designed multiple other buildings in the greater Boston area including the Ames Gate Lodge, Oakes Ames Memorial Hall, and the Thomas Crane Public Library.

Boston Public Library (McKim Building)

Another piece of exquisite architecture in Copley Plaza is the main Boston Public Library building.  Completed in 1895 and designed by the firm McKim, Meade, and White, the library is a great example of the Beaux-Arts style. The building is beautiful and has a sense of grandeur, but not so much so that it feels unwelcoming or too serious. In fact, McKim coined this building as "the palace for the people". An addition was later added that was done by Phillip Johnson. Here is an entire journal entry on this incredible building by Tom Kligerman.

The original Boston Natural History Museum

The original Boston Natural History Museum, now RH

Okay, so this building wasn’t originally built for Restoration Hardware. In actuality, this building was completed in 1863, making it one of the oldest buildings in the Back Bay area of Boston. Designed by William Preston and built to be the Boston Natural History Museum, and it was just that up until 1951. After this, multiple different companies and stores took residency there. In 2013, Restoration Hardware bought the building and restored it to its neoclassical style and details. Some additions were made on the interior, such as a steel and glass elevator. However, the façade, remains unchanged.

Old State House

Nestled amongst skyscrapers is the Old State House. This building dates back to 1713 and was the main government building for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. John Hancock himself rented warehouse space in the basement (even revolutionaries needed storage space)!  Now functioning as a museum dedicated to Massachusetts’ role in the revolutionary war, it is a National Historic Landmark. In fact, the balcony pictured above is where the Declaration of Independence was first read aloud in 1776. Today, the building continues to be restored whenever needed with the funds raised by the Bostonian Society. 

Next time anyone heads to Boston, I strongly recommend taking a moment to appreciate each of these buildings that make up Boston today, especially since the first four are within a .1 mile radius of each other.