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Government Center

Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners
Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

In 1960, Edward Logue became head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), which he soon established as the most powerful planning and development agency in the United States. Logue called I.M. Pei, whose urban planning projects at Mile High in Denver and at Kips Bay in New York, he knew and admired. Logue’s top priority was the creation of a government center on 64 acres of dilapidated, soon to be razed, buildings downtown. The question was how to optimally develop the site for government use, while also making provisions for significant private development.

Pei and his team drew up a master plan, but designed no buildings as legislation at the time protected against any conflicts of interest. Recommendations included the rationalization of the area’s maze-like streets by widening, realignment or replacement with major and minor arterials. Within this greatly simplified street network, key sites were identified for city, state, and federal needs, with others of sufficient size set aside for private office buildings. The centerpiece was to be a new city hall surrounded by a great open space (originally intended as a public green) that would pull all of the components together. The strategy was reinforced by a 600,000-square-foot curved commercial building directly opposite city hall, providing retail and a protected pedestrian arcade for a lively mix of uses. Parking structures were assigned to the periphery of the site to limit congestion and better weave new construction into a part of town still distinguished by important historic buildings.


Existing conditions (before project implementation) / Courtesy of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

The master plan provided precise development controls over height, bulk, setbacks, open space, and spatial relationships between buildings, all of this based on the firm belief that individual buildings need to be conceived within the framework of their larger environment. The plan guided development over the course of decades during which, almost without exception, the original provisions were respected. To Ed Logue’s considerable satisfaction, Boston succeeded in creating one of the few true government centers in the United States.

The project received a Citation for Excellence in Community Architecture from the American Institute of Architects in 1972.


Project Team: I.M. Pei and Henry Cobb, Design Partners: architects and planners; Vincent Pasciuto Ponte, Planner