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From Bauhaus to the State House: Boston's Best Starchitecture

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The fabulous thing about a starchitecture map in a place like Greater Boston is the sheer breadth of options. We can go back to the very first American starchitect, Charles Bulfinch (he of the Massachusetts State House and myriad other downtown Boston landmarks), and all the way forward to living legends such as Renzo Piano (the Isabella Stewart Gardner addition) and Fumihiko Maki (M.I.T.'s Media Lab) with so many more bold-faced names in between, including I.M. Pei, Henry Hobson Richardson, Philip Johnson and Eero Saarinen. Have fun.


· Our Curbed Maps archive [Curbed Boston]
[Photos: Stata Center by Andy Ryan via M.I.T.; Clarendon by Peter Aaron/Esto via Robert A.M. Stern; Gardner museum extension via Dezeen Magazine; Media Lab atrium photo by Andy Ryan via M.I.T.; Kresge Auditorium by Daderot via Wikimedia]

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1. MIT Stata Center (Building 32)

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32 Vassar Street, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

You cannot have a starchitecture map without Frank Gehry. When the Stata opened in 2004, replacing M.I.T.'s legendary Building 20, the Boston Globe's Robert Campbell declared it "a work of architecture that embodies serious thinking about how people live and work, and at the same time shouts the joy of invention."

2. Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

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24 Quincy Street, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138

The center on Harvard's campus represents the only North American project French-Swiss giant Le Corbusier designed that actually got built. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the building. When it opened in 1963, a critic said Le Corbusier "violently asserts the independence of his building from its grid of surrounding streets and architecture." We're down the street from it; we agree.

3. The Clarendon

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400 Stuart Street
Boston, MA 02116

Here's what the firm of architect Robert A.M. Stern has to say about the 32-story luxury condo that the Yale architecture dean had a hand in designing: "The Clarendon is clad in the traditional Boston palette of red brick and limestone, but expressed in a way that relates to its modern neighbors with two-story recessed masses that modulate the scale of the whole."

4. 144 Upland Road

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144 Upland Road
Cambridge, MA 02140

The 3,467-square-foot house was designed by the late Paul Rudolph, Yale architecture dean and champion of Brutalism (he probably loved Boston City Hall). Built in the late 1950s, 144 Upland is all about open space and sunlight from floor-to-ceiling windows. And never mind exposed beams: This number features exposed steel trusses.

5. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

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280 Fenway
Boston, MA 02115
(617) 566-1401

Italian Renzo Piano designed the expanded bits of the Gardner, which opened in 2012. As Matthew Reed Baker noted of the Piano wing in Boston Magazine upon its opening: "It doesn’t try to wow you, and that’s a good thing. After all, it’s not meant to upstage its older sister." (Piano also played a major role in designing the expanded Fogg museum at Harvard.)

6. The Hayden Building

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681-683 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02116

Marked for demolition at one point, along with the rest of the old Combat Zone, a years-long preservation push saved one of the few extant Hub examples of the work of 19th-century giant Henry Hobson Richardson. (Another biggie: Trinity Church.) Believe it or not, the 66-foot building, now luxury apartments, was considered an example of that newfangled skyscraper trend when it opened in the 1880s.

7. John Hancock Tower

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200 Clarendon St
Boston, MA 02116

Henry Cobb of I.M. Pei's firm, now Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, designed what became (and remains) the tallest building in New England when it was finished in 1976. Its exterior includes 10,344 reflective-glass panes, making it a kind of modernist exclamation point on Boston's pivot out of the bad, old '70s into the slightly better '80s.

8. M.I.T. Media Lab — Building E14

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75 Amherst Street, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 253-5960
Visit Website

Though probably best-known now in the U.S. for designing one of the ginormous towers at the World Trade Center site in New York, Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki designed this six-story building at the tail end of the last decade, years before 4 World Trade. Its airy feel is meant, in M.I.T.'s words, "to ignite a new energy and connectivity" with the adjoining Wiesner Building, designed by I.M. Pei.

9. Massachusetts State House

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1 Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

Yup, the State House in Beacon Hill was designed by a starchitect—by the first starchitect perhaps. Charles Bulfinch was at least the first person born in the U.S. to practice architecture as a profession. After graduating Harvard, he spent a chunk of the 1780s touring Europe, falling under the thrall of neoclassicism.

10. Johnson Building - Boston Public Library

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700 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
(617) 536-5400
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Postmodernist giant Philip Johnson faced two requests in designing the Copley Square addition in the early 1970s, according to the Boston Public Library: observe the existing roof line of the McKim Building, and use material (Milford granite) that would harmonize with the exterior of the existing Central Library building. He did.

11. MIT Kresge Auditorium (Building W16)

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48 Massachusetts Avenue, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 253-1246

This was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, he of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and finished in 1955. He apparently designed it in tandem with the M.I.T. Chapel, and it's meant as a prime example of thin-shelled structures.

12. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

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Columbia Point
Boston, MA 02125
(617) 514-1600
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Jacqueline Kennedy plucked I.M. Pei from virtual obscurity in the mid-1960s to design her late husband's presidential library. Pei set about a design originally intended for JFK alma mater Harvard, but that eventually ended up off UMass. The finished product, unveiled in 1979, was meant to make visitors who had just passed through it to think, according to the library: "Except for an enormous American flag suspended above, the space is empty to allow the viewer to contemplate what he has seen and experienced against a great panorama of sky, land and open sea."

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1. MIT Stata Center (Building 32)

32 Vassar Street, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139

You cannot have a starchitecture map without Frank Gehry. When the Stata opened in 2004, replacing M.I.T.'s legendary Building 20, the Boston Globe's Robert Campbell declared it "a work of architecture that embodies serious thinking about how people live and work, and at the same time shouts the joy of invention."

32 Vassar Street, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

2. Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

24 Quincy Street, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138

The center on Harvard's campus represents the only North American project French-Swiss giant Le Corbusier designed that actually got built. Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the building. When it opened in 1963, a critic said Le Corbusier "violently asserts the independence of his building from its grid of surrounding streets and architecture." We're down the street from it; we agree.

24 Quincy Street, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138

3. The Clarendon

400 Stuart Street, Boston, MA 02116

Here's what the firm of architect Robert A.M. Stern has to say about the 32-story luxury condo that the Yale architecture dean had a hand in designing: "The Clarendon is clad in the traditional Boston palette of red brick and limestone, but expressed in a way that relates to its modern neighbors with two-story recessed masses that modulate the scale of the whole."

400 Stuart Street
Boston, MA 02116

4. 144 Upland Road

144 Upland Road, Cambridge, MA 02140

The 3,467-square-foot house was designed by the late Paul Rudolph, Yale architecture dean and champion of Brutalism (he probably loved Boston City Hall). Built in the late 1950s, 144 Upland is all about open space and sunlight from floor-to-ceiling windows. And never mind exposed beams: This number features exposed steel trusses.

144 Upland Road
Cambridge, MA 02140

5. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

280 Fenway, Boston, MA 02115

Italian Renzo Piano designed the expanded bits of the Gardner, which opened in 2012. As Matthew Reed Baker noted of the Piano wing in Boston Magazine upon its opening: "It doesn’t try to wow you, and that’s a good thing. After all, it’s not meant to upstage its older sister." (Piano also played a major role in designing the expanded Fogg museum at Harvard.)

280 Fenway
Boston, MA 02115

6. The Hayden Building

681-683 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02116

Marked for demolition at one point, along with the rest of the old Combat Zone, a years-long preservation push saved one of the few extant Hub examples of the work of 19th-century giant Henry Hobson Richardson. (Another biggie: Trinity Church.) Believe it or not, the 66-foot building, now luxury apartments, was considered an example of that newfangled skyscraper trend when it opened in the 1880s.

681-683 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02116

7. John Hancock Tower

200 Clarendon St, Boston, MA 02116

Henry Cobb of I.M. Pei's firm, now Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, designed what became (and remains) the tallest building in New England when it was finished in 1976. Its exterior includes 10,344 reflective-glass panes, making it a kind of modernist exclamation point on Boston's pivot out of the bad, old '70s into the slightly better '80s.

200 Clarendon St
Boston, MA 02116

8. M.I.T. Media Lab — Building E14

75 Amherst Street, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139

Though probably best-known now in the U.S. for designing one of the ginormous towers at the World Trade Center site in New York, Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki designed this six-story building at the tail end of the last decade, years before 4 World Trade. Its airy feel is meant, in M.I.T.'s words, "to ignite a new energy and connectivity" with the adjoining Wiesner Building, designed by I.M. Pei.

75 Amherst Street, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

9. Massachusetts State House

1 Ashburton Place, Boston, MA 02108

Yup, the State House in Beacon Hill was designed by a starchitect—by the first starchitect perhaps. Charles Bulfinch was at least the first person born in the U.S. to practice architecture as a profession. After graduating Harvard, he spent a chunk of the 1780s touring Europe, falling under the thrall of neoclassicism.

1 Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

10. Johnson Building - Boston Public Library

700 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116

Postmodernist giant Philip Johnson faced two requests in designing the Copley Square addition in the early 1970s, according to the Boston Public Library: observe the existing roof line of the McKim Building, and use material (Milford granite) that would harmonize with the exterior of the existing Central Library building. He did.

700 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116

11. MIT Kresge Auditorium (Building W16)

48 Massachusetts Avenue, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139

This was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, he of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and finished in 1955. He apparently designed it in tandem with the M.I.T. Chapel, and it's meant as a prime example of thin-shelled structures.

48 Massachusetts Avenue, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139

12. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Columbia Point, Boston, MA 02125

Jacqueline Kennedy plucked I.M. Pei from virtual obscurity in the mid-1960s to design her late husband's presidential library. Pei set about a design originally intended for JFK alma mater Harvard, but that eventually ended up off UMass. The finished product, unveiled in 1979, was meant to make visitors who had just passed through it to think, according to the library: "Except for an enormous American flag suspended above, the space is empty to allow the viewer to contemplate what he has seen and experienced against a great panorama of sky, land and open sea."

Columbia Point
Boston, MA 02125