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Boston's 15 most iconic modern buildings, mapped

These gems include works from Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Josep Sert, I.M. Pei, and Frank Gehry

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The Boston area is undoubtedly best-known architecturally for its federal-style buildings from the late 18th and early 19th centuries (think the Massachusetts State House or any number of townhouses in Back Bay and Beacon Hill).

But the region has more than a fair smattering of modern architectural gems from the late 20th century. These 15 buildings are the best of the best modern architecture in Boston and Cambridge.

The forces behind their design read like a who's who of architects from the past 75 years: Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Josep Sert, I.M. Pei, Frank Gehry, and more.

If you think we've left out any particularly striking examples, let us know in the comments section below.

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1. Community Rowing Boathouse

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20 Nonantum Rd
Boston, MA 02135
(617) 779-8267
Visit Website

Anmahian Winton Architects designed this structure, which opened in 2008 and is exactly what its name implies: a boathouse beside the Charles.

In 2009, the design won the Boston Society of Architects' Harleston Parker Medal, which honors what its backers call "the single most beautiful building or other structure" built in the Boston area during the previous 10 years.

Boston Globe via Getty Images

2. Harkness Commons

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Harvard Law School
Cambridge, MA

Bauhaus giant Walter Gropius' Architects Collaborative designed this graduate-student complex in the late 1940s.

The factory-like, brutally functional buildings were a milestone in modern architecture in the United States, including the distinction of being the first modern buildings on Harvard's campus.

"Harvard Decides to 'Build Modern'"—that was the headline in the October 25, 1948 New York Times, complete with the quotation marks around "Build Modern."

Getty Images

3. Harvard Science Center

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1 Oxford St
Cambridge, MA 02138

One of Le Corbusier's top proteges was Josep Sert, who ran Harvard's architecture and design faculty for much of the mid-1900s.

Sert’s Science Center design was a deliberately modernist departure from all the more classical, Georgian architecture at the surrounding university.

It went up in the early 1970s.

Gunnar Klack/Wikimedia

4. Peabody Terrace

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900 Memorial Dr
Cambridge, MA 02138

Josep Sert designed the three-spire Harvard complex of graduate-student housing, which went up in the early 1960s and opened in 1964.

The towers were an attempt to, as the Catalan Sert described it, "bring the color and life of the Mediterranean" to the banks of the Charles.

Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

5. Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

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24 Quincy St
Cambridge, MA 02138

Harvard's visual arts center is the only completed project in North America from French architect Le Corbusier (he collaborated with Chilean architect Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente).

The curved building opened in 1963.

Boston Globe via Getty Images

6. M.I.T. Simmons Hall (Building W79)

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229 Vassar St
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 253-5107
Visit Website

Steven Holl Architects designed this 350-bed, 196,000-square-foot dormitory at the turn of the century with the idea of fostering interaction in mind.

Hence its porous, sponge-like appearance and setup, including some 6,000 open-able windows.

Moment Editorial/Getty Images

7. M.I.T. Kresge Auditorium (Building W16)

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48 Massachusetts Ave Rear
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 253-1246
Visit Website

Eero Saarinen designed this auditorium in the early 1950s and the university dedicated it in 1955, the same year it dedicated the Saarinen-designed chapel nearby.

The auditorium is one of the more famous midcentury modern buildings in America and its acoustics are quite sublime.

Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock

8. M.I.T. Chapel (Building W15)

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50 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 253-4795
Visit Website

Eero Saarinen designed this non-denominational chapel, which the university dedicated in 1955.

It is 30 feet high and 50 feet in diameter, and features a striking skylight over a white marble altar.

Bettmann Archive

9. Art of the Americas @ MFA

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465 Huntington Ave
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 267-9300
Visit Website

This 121,037-square-foot wing of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts opened in late 2010. Norman Foster's London firm designed it in collaboration with CBT Architects of Boston.

Critic Ada Louise Huxtable described it as a "discreet addition" to Guy Lowell's original Beaux Arts building, which went up almost exactly a century before.

UIG via Getty Images

10. M.I.T. Stata Center (Building 32)

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32 Vassar St
Cambridge, MA 02139

This 720,000-square-foot academic hub is one of the region's most famous buildings, period.

The Frank Gehry-designed structure was completed in 2004 to pretty much universal acclaim.

Here was the Globe's Robert Campbell at the time: "Everything looks improvised, as if thrown up at the last moment. That's the point. The Stata's appearance is a metaphor for the freedom, daring, and creativity of the research that's supposed to occur inside it."

Marco Rubino/Shutterstock

11. M.I.T. Media Lab — Building E14

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75 Amherst St
Cambridge, MA 02142
(617) 253-5960
Visit Website

This six-story, 163,000-square-foot building opened in 2010 next to the existing home of M.I.T.’s Media Lab, the Wiesner Building, which I.M. Pei designed.

Fumihiko Maki and Associates, in association with Leers Weinzapfel Associates, designed the addition.

andresmh/Flickr

12. 200 Clarendon

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200 Clarendon St
Boston, MA 02116

The tower formerly known as the John Hancock is New England’s tallest building at 790 feet, a distinction it has held since construction of the Henry Cobb-designed spire wrapped in 1976.

Pascal Vosicki/Shutterstock

13. Boston City Hall

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1 City Hall Sq.
Boston, MA 02201
(617) 635-4000
Visit Website

Boston's City Hall has been an architectural punching bag since its completion in 1968 (it often makes lists of "ugliest buildings").

Kallmann, McKinnell & Knowles, then professors at Columbia, won an international competition to design the civic hub and pivoted from more traditional fare as well as from sleek, glassiness to a brutalist design that still perplexes the masses.

Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

14. Institute of Contemporary Art

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25 Harbor Shore Drive
Boston, MA 02210
(617) 478-3100
Visit Website

The museum itself dates from 1936, but this striking iteration opened in 2006. Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed it.

It, too, took home the Harleston Parker Medal from the Boston Society of Architects.

Kalim Saliba/Shutterstock

15. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum

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Columbia Point
Boston, MA 02125
(617) 514-1600
Visit Website

I.M. Pei designed this repository for all things related to the nation's 35th president, whose life was bound up with his native region.

A nine-story concrete tower joins with a glass-and-steel pavilion to give the building its striking appearance.

The library and museum opened in 1979.

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1. Community Rowing Boathouse

20 Nonantum Rd, Boston, MA 02135
Boston Globe via Getty Images

Anmahian Winton Architects designed this structure, which opened in 2008 and is exactly what its name implies: a boathouse beside the Charles.

In 2009, the design won the Boston Society of Architects' Harleston Parker Medal, which honors what its backers call "the single most beautiful building or other structure" built in the Boston area during the previous 10 years.

20 Nonantum Rd
Boston, MA 02135

2. Harkness Commons

Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA
Getty Images

Bauhaus giant Walter Gropius' Architects Collaborative designed this graduate-student complex in the late 1940s.

The factory-like, brutally functional buildings were a milestone in modern architecture in the United States, including the distinction of being the first modern buildings on Harvard's campus.

"Harvard Decides to 'Build Modern'"—that was the headline in the October 25, 1948 New York Times, complete with the quotation marks around "Build Modern."

Harvard Law School
Cambridge, MA

3. Harvard Science Center

1 Oxford St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Gunnar Klack/Wikimedia

One of Le Corbusier's top proteges was Josep Sert, who ran Harvard's architecture and design faculty for much of the mid-1900s.

Sert’s Science Center design was a deliberately modernist departure from all the more classical, Georgian architecture at the surrounding university.

It went up in the early 1970s.

1 Oxford St
Cambridge, MA 02138

4. Peabody Terrace

900 Memorial Dr, Cambridge, MA 02138
Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

Josep Sert designed the three-spire Harvard complex of graduate-student housing, which went up in the early 1960s and opened in 1964.

The towers were an attempt to, as the Catalan Sert described it, "bring the color and life of the Mediterranean" to the banks of the Charles.

900 Memorial Dr
Cambridge, MA 02138

5. Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

24 Quincy St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Boston Globe via Getty Images

Harvard's visual arts center is the only completed project in North America from French architect Le Corbusier (he collaborated with Chilean architect Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente).

The curved building opened in 1963.

24 Quincy St
Cambridge, MA 02138

6. M.I.T. Simmons Hall (Building W79)

229 Vassar St, Cambridge, MA 02139
Moment Editorial/Getty Images

Steven Holl Architects designed this 350-bed, 196,000-square-foot dormitory at the turn of the century with the idea of fostering interaction in mind.

Hence its porous, sponge-like appearance and setup, including some 6,000 open-able windows.

229 Vassar St
Cambridge, MA 02139

7. M.I.T. Kresge Auditorium (Building W16)

48 Massachusetts Ave Rear, Cambridge, MA 02139
Jorge Salcedo/Shutterstock

Eero Saarinen designed this auditorium in the early 1950s and the university dedicated it in 1955, the same year it dedicated the Saarinen-designed chapel nearby.

The auditorium is one of the more famous midcentury modern buildings in America and its acoustics are quite sublime.

48 Massachusetts Ave Rear
Cambridge, MA 02139

8. M.I.T. Chapel (Building W15)

50 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139
Bettmann Archive

Eero Saarinen designed this non-denominational chapel, which the university dedicated in 1955.

It is 30 feet high and 50 feet in diameter, and features a striking skylight over a white marble altar.

50 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139

9. Art of the Americas @ MFA

465 Huntington Ave, Boston, MA 02115
UIG via Getty Images

This 121,037-square-foot wing of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts opened in late 2010. Norman Foster's London firm designed it in collaboration with CBT Architects of Boston.

Critic Ada Louise Huxtable described it as a "discreet addition" to Guy Lowell's original Beaux Arts building, which went up almost exactly a century before.

465 Huntington Ave
Boston, MA 02115

10. M.I.T. Stata Center (Building 32)

32 Vassar St, Cambridge, MA 02139
Marco Rubino/Shutterstock

This 720,000-square-foot academic hub is one of the region's most famous buildings, period.

The Frank Gehry-designed structure was completed in 2004 to pretty much universal acclaim.

Here was the Globe's Robert Campbell at the time: "Everything looks improvised, as if thrown up at the last moment. That's the point. The Stata's appearance is a metaphor for the freedom, daring, and creativity of the research that's supposed to occur inside it."

32 Vassar St
Cambridge, MA 02139

11. M.I.T. Media Lab — Building E14

75 Amherst St, Cambridge, MA 02142
andresmh/Flickr

This six-story, 163,000-square-foot building opened in 2010 next to the existing home of M.I.T.’s Media Lab, the Wiesner Building, which I.M. Pei designed.

Fumihiko Maki and Associates, in association with Leers Weinzapfel Associates, designed the addition.

75 Amherst St
Cambridge, MA 02142

12. 200 Clarendon

200 Clarendon St, Boston, MA 02116
Pascal Vosicki/Shutterstock

The tower formerly known as the John Hancock is New England’s tallest building at 790 feet, a distinction it has held since construction of the Henry Cobb-designed spire wrapped in 1976.

200 Clarendon St
Boston, MA 02116

13. Boston City Hall

1 City Hall Sq., Boston, MA 02201
Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock

Boston's City Hall has been an architectural punching bag since its completion in 1968 (it often makes lists of "ugliest buildings").

Kallmann, McKinnell & Knowles, then professors at Columbia, won an international competition to design the civic hub and pivoted from more traditional fare as well as from sleek, glassiness to a brutalist design that still perplexes the masses.

1 City Hall Sq.
Boston, MA 02201

14. Institute of Contemporary Art

25 Harbor Shore Drive, Boston, MA 02210
Kalim Saliba/Shutterstock

The museum itself dates from 1936, but this striking iteration opened in 2006. Diller Scofidio + Renfro designed it.

It, too, took home the Harleston Parker Medal from the Boston Society of Architects.

25 Harbor Shore Drive
Boston, MA 02210

15. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum

Columbia Point, Boston, MA 02125

I.M. Pei designed this repository for all things related to the nation's 35th president, whose life was bound up with his native region.

A nine-story concrete tower joins with a glass-and-steel pavilion to give the building its striking appearance.

The library and museum opened in 1979.

Columbia Point
Boston, MA 02125

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