Boston City Hall—like many Brutalist buildings—has aroused intensely polarized receptions. Architectural professionals have championed the building as a stronghold of “dignity, humanism, and power,” while the public has condemned it as “the ugliest building in America.” This essay is an act of translation and empathy for both the architectural languages through which the building has been understood. How and what does Boston City Hall mean? What discrepancies existed between these languages that produced such violent breakages in meaning? These questions confront an important and unresolved problem in architecture—how to create civic buildings that resonate with both those who design and those who use them.
April 29, 2016