The 5 Buildings That Epitomize Boston Architecture

The Massachusetts capital showcases some of the oldest—and most controversial—architecture in the United States


Boston features more than just wicked good clam chowder and lobster rolls. The Massachusetts capital is also one of the most culturally enriching places in the United States, marked by architecture that traces all the way back to the country’s founding and independence.

Here are the five buildings that best epitomize Boston architecture.

MIT Stata Center

  • The 720,000-square-foot academic complex was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • It sits on the site of MIT’s former Building 20, which housed the historic Radiation Laboratory during World War II
  • The complex opened in 2004 after many cost overruns and building delays
  • The building’s unique style has been compared to German Expressionism of the 1920s

Boston City Hall

  • The building is a controversial and prominent example of Brutalist architecture, which was part of the modernist movement
  • The project constituted a major urban redesign effort in the 1960s, as Boston demolished an area of substandard housing and businesses
  • City Hall was constructed by using mainly cast-in-place and precast Portland cement and some masonry
  • The building was designed to create an open and accessible place for the city’s government, with the most heavily used public activities all located on the lower levels directly connected to the plaza 

Custom House Tower

  • Custom House Tower is a skyscraper in Boston’s McKinley Square constructed in 1837-47; it was designed by Ammi Burnham Young; the tower, added in 1913-15, was designed by Peabody and Stearns
  • This Neoclassical design building was a cruciform Greek Revival structure, combining a Greek Doric portico with a Roman dome
  • The entire structure sits on filled land and is supported by 3,000 wooden piles driven through fill to bedrock
  • Because of an undersized motor, the clock on the tower failed to work properly through much of the 20th century

Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge

  • This cable-stayed bridge was completed in 2003 across the Charles River
  • The bridge and connecting tunnel were built as part of the Big Dig; the bridge’s styling quickly became an icon for Boston
  • The process of landscape design and environmental mitigation under the bridge deck and around the bridge supports allowed for the creation of a new and accessible public landscape designed by Carol R. Johnson Associates

Old State House

  • The oldest surviving public building in the city and now used as a history museum
  • Built in 1713, the Old State House was the seat of the Massachusetts General Court; though there is some debate, many believe the building was designed by Robert Twelves in Georgian architectural style
  • The building features red brick and is highly symmetrical and ornamented
  • The structure’s central portion contained the chambers for the Massachusetts Assembly
  • On March 5, 1770, the Boston Massacre occurred in front of the building on Devonshire Street
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