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Durable Boston

Material Assemblies compares the integration of systems in the four material types to illustrate how architects make performance-based decisions to achieve durable and sustainable architecture. Explore the Boston buildings below that represent how these materials are used locally.

6 Durable


The monumental Boston City Hall—designed by Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles—has been steeped in controversy since its completion in 1968, given its “brutalist” architectural expression and its surrounding wind-swept plaza. Brutalism, the exposed concrete style named for the French béton brut meaning “raw concrete,” is generally loathed or loved, rarely evoking a passive response. The passions around it will likely ensure City Hall endures as a cultural icon into the future.


Curator Peter Wiederspahn passes in front of the City Hall display at the Durable opening.

Photo: Mic L. Angelo


The steel-framed John Hancock Tower, designed by architect Henry Cobb of I. M. Pei & Partners, has been the tallest building in New England since its completion in 1976. A dual Tuned Mass Damper had to be added at the top to reduce the sway of the flexible and irregular structure. Its slender proportions, its prismatic form, and its reflective glass curtain wall façade allow it slip into the historic Copley Square like a silent giant.


Designed by architect H. H. Richardson and completed in 1880, Sever Hall in Harvard Yard contains 1.3 million bricks. Romanesque arches at the symmetrical entries follow the compressive logic of masonry construction and recall classical buildings; while the horizontally-ganged windows of the classrooms prefigure a new architecture of non-classical forms and minimal ornamentation.


Ninety percent of the heavy-timber in the Paul Revere House dates from the original 1680 construction. The structural columns and beams are visible between plastered surfaces at walls and ceilings. This robust and durable frame remained constant through major alterations and numerous different uses: as a cigar factory, candy store, vegetable market, bank, as well as single-family and multifamily housing.

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