There's no doubting Boston's historical lineage.
Dating back to its settlement in 1625 and then official incorporation five years later, Boston is one of the country's oldest communities, predating all but six U.S. towns or cities. Over nearly 400 years of history, the city played a central role in shaping U.S. history, transforming from a critical hub during the American Revolution into a modern, world-class metropolitan destination for people across the globe.
Along the way, Boston became home to a considerable number of stunning architectural gems. The diverse cityscape is one of the city's most attractive qualities. City officials and local residents have done well to preserve Boston's past while building out a contemporary urban landscape of the future. Across Boston's nearly 90 square mile footprint is a treasure trove of design and a chronicle of the city's evolution across four centuries.
But a handful stands above the rest as genuine masterpieces in a gallery filled with timeless stone, brick, glass, and steel monuments. Below we look at the city's most stunning and unique wonders of design and construction, sharing our top 10 must-see architectural marvels in the city of Boston.
1. Harvard University and MIT
Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) both feature indelible landmarks that trace Boston's vast architectural history from its earliest pre-colonial days to buildings that suggest the city's architectural future. They represent a heritage that celebrates both form and function — and even a bit of whimsy — in equal measure.
The renowned Cambridge-based campus of Harvard University is a treasure trove of architectural designs in Boston. A walking tour should include the 303-year-old Massachusetts Hall, the 257-year-old Harvard Hall, and the 208-year-old University Hall. More "recent" structures of note include the Georgian Revival Fogg Art Museum, the Widener Library, the Harvard Lampoon Castle, and Weld Boathouse. Venture across the Charles River into Allston to visit Harvard Stadium, the world's first large-scale reinforced concrete building and among the first permanent athletic facilities in the U.S.
As the younger institution of Boston's two most notable universities, architecture on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus understandably reflects a more youthful exuberance. Standouts include the neoclassical Great Dome built in 1916, the dramatic Eero Saarinen-designed Kresge Auditorium, Kresge Oval, and MIT Chapel, all from 1955, the Frank Gehry-designed Ray and Maria Stata Center constructed in 2002, and the cubism-influenced Simmons Hall from 2004.
2. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Located in Dorchester, adjacent to the University of Massachusetts on Columbia Point, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is a modernist design by I.M. Pei housing the Kennedy Administration's presidential papers and exhibits from his life. A study in bold geometric shapes, the library and museum feature a three-sided 9-story concrete tower, a sweeping circular section that rises above a seafront plaza, and a four-sided 115-foot tall glass-encased atrium connecting the disparate shapes. Anchoring a 10-acre park overlooking Dorchester Bay, the library and museum offer a solemn, elegant tribute to the nation's 35th president.
3. Christian Science Center
While several of Boston's architecturally designed landmarks bring together vastly different design eras, the Christian Science Center is the rare case of four schools of architecture forming a cohesive complex of buildings. The first is the congregation's original Romanesque Revival Mother Church built in 1894, followed by the Mother Church Extension in 1906, which boasts an Italian Renaissance exterior and Byzantine-style dome. The Neoclassical Christian Science Publishing House completed construction in 1934. In 1972, I.M. Pei completed the church's Plaza expansion, including the Brutalist-designed triumvirate of Reflection Hall, the 26-story 177 Huntington Avenue, and the five-story, 154,000 square foot 101 Belvidere Street.
4. 200 Clarendon (formerly John Hancock Tower)
From difficult beginnings that included falling panels of glass and a lean in high wind considered too great to be safe, 200 Clarendon is today an icon of Boston's diverse and distinctive skyline. Standing sentry over the Back Bay neighborhood, 200 Clarendon is the tallest building in Boston and New England. Completed in 1976, the tower's clean lines and highly reflective all-glass facade, which is especially stunning under a bright blue sky with the occasional passing cloud, make it a favorite landmark among locals.
5. Massachusetts State House
Completed in 1798 to replace the historic Old State House — the site of the Boston Massacre and currently the oldest public building in Boston — the new Massachusetts State House in Beacon Hill is a glimmering display of Federal-style architecture. Designed by Charles Bulfinch (who also served as the third architect of the U.S. Capitol), few buildings in Boston boast the State House's scope, attention to detail, and specific sense of purpose when considering the era of its construction. Built on land once owned by John Hancock, the 225-year-old building's hallmark dome features copper cladding procured from Paul Revere and is gilded in 23k gold.
6. Boston Public Library
Though the original 1895 Beaux-Arts designed Boston Public Library main building stands as a much-loved destination for Bostonians and New Englanders alike, the library's Brutalist 1972 addition took much longer to gain acceptance. It wasn't until a complete renovation in 2016 added a new mezzanine and much-needed interior space, light, and color that the two opposing structures fused into a cohesive space befitting the country's third-largest public library. As a bonus, many of the Boston Public Library's community branches are themselves architectural jewels. Notable branches include those in East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury.
7. Custom House Tower
Between 1674 and 1841, Boston's custom house administration shifted around the quickly maturing city. In the late 1840s, then-U.S. President Andrew Jackson authorized the building of a permanent custom house for Boston, and by 1849 the neoclassical Boston Custom House began operations. However, it would be another 66 years before the custom house would add its most distinguishing feature in 1915 —the Custom House Tower. The 496-foot tall expansion gave the custom house much-needed space and the city its first true skyscraper. Despite a famously inoperable clock near its apex, the Custom House Tower stood as Boston's tallest for nearly 50 years before the Prudential Tower overtook it in 1964.
8. Boston City Hall
What is arguably Boston's most publicly maligned building, the pitch-perfect Brutalist-style architecture of Boston City Hall is also one of the city's most universally acclaimed accomplishments by experts in the field. Designed by the firm Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles, the hulking structure presides over its more popular and expansive outdoor plaza in the heart of downtown. Completed in 1968, it has stood as a symbol of that era's modernist school of design and is the pinnacle of Boston's surprisingly extensive roster of Brutalist buildings. Love it or hate it, Boston City Hill is a must-visit for any architectural enthusiast.
9. Institute of Contemporary Art
Though it's a city filled with historical structures, many of which count among the nation's oldest buildings, architectural design in Boston isn't shy about celebrating the present or looking forward to the future. One of the most remarkable examples is the exquisite Diller Scofidio + Renfro-designed Institute of Contemporary Art / Boston. Completed in 2006, this 65,000-square-foot Boston Harbour gem features a breathtaking glass and metal facade cantilevered over the harbor. Its column-free galleries and copious natural light further enhance the exhibit space.
10. Trinity Church
Numerous Boston area churches have the architectural pedigree to make any number of best-of lists — the Old South Church, Old North Church, King's Chapel, and The Lucas, among them — but the imposing, ornate profile cast by Back Bay's Trinity Church bests them, and all of Boston's architectural wonders. Designed by Henry Hobson Richardson in his namesake Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style, the 1877 Trinity Church's church reflects his European tutelage and broad American roots (Richardson was born in Louisiana) with flourishes of Byzantine and Gothic influence. Even today, with Boston's tallest building, 200 Clarendon, towering above it, the design is a masterwork of architecture as art, including intricate exterior carvings, a world-renowned collection of stained-glass windows, and an ethereal Arts and Crafts sanctuary.
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