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Boston City Hall is a masterpiece of brutalist architecture. As part of the reinvention of the surrounding plaza by Sasaki, the design team implemented a comprehensive wayfinding system for the site.

The design of the project emerged from an exploration of the area’s history—from an early indigenous settlement, to the landing ground for early colonial settlers of the city, through to it’s notorious reputation as Scollay Square, and it’s reinvention as the site of civic government.

Working closely with the Mayor's office, our team developed a series of elements that complement Sasaki's revamped design. The redesigned landscape included several firsts, such as adding the name of the place to each major entrance through large granite markers, recognizing the many voices that comprise the culture of Boston, and providing accessible navigation through the landscape on the plaza. These interventions give a renewed a sense of place and identity to the plaza.

The forms of the project reference the robust armature of the Heroic building by Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles (1968). In particular, the top three floors reference a classical dentil pattern, which capture light and shadow in dramatic ways. These forms became the reference point for all aspects of the design, using the rhythm and playful positive and negative spaces they create to bring a sense of human scale to the broad areas of the plaza. The signs are clad in bronze, which is also an elemental part of the building’s materiality.

The system evolved to have four main elements: the identifying grantie markers, a large feature wall, directional markers, and an interpretive set of elements inserted into the brick of the plaza.

The main feature wall attaches to a blank brick corner of the building, now the site of an arts plaza and terraced seating. The structure announces that “All are welcome” to the building in seventeen languages, expanding on the six official languages used by the city. This element also provides a space for a rotating display of commissioned art pieces, curated by the Boston Arts Council.

Navigational pylons were placed at critical moments across the plaza, indicating both city specific department and places of interest in the area, and are internally illuminated for enhanced legibility.

Finally a neighborhood circle and a series of cast drains that provide information about the many aspects of the environmental rejuvenation of the site, with particular emphasis on water reclamation and reuse. A new civic room, adjacent to a “brutalist“ playground which has gained some notoriety in recent months, has an additional space for public art.

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