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Friday, December 7, 2012

Ugly Buildings We Love To Hate

Built in the 1960s, Boston City Hall is an example of the brutalist style. (Wikipedia)The EMP Museum at the Seattle Center, seen here in 2006, was formerly called the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. (Wikipedia)Architect Frank Gehry designed the Ray and Maria Stata Center for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). (Wikipedia)San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is devoted to 20th century art. (Caroline Culler/Wikipedia)After Denver voters approved a $91.6 million bond for the project in 1990, the Denver Public Library added 540,000 square-foot edition to its building. ( Longaberger Company's headquarters in  Newark, Ohio, takes the shape of the maple wood baskets it makes. (Derek Jensen/Wikipedia)

Boston’s City Hall, which has been called a “giant concrete harmonica,” seems to make it onto every list of hated buildings.

Of course Boston is not alone. Almost every place in the country has a building hated by most people, but loved by many architects.  What is it that makes these buildings so despised?

Brian Sirman, who teaches a popular class at Boston University called “reviled architecture,” told Here & Now that some buildings lack aesthetics, while others are excessively showy or complex. And others, such as Boston City Hall, are totally out of sync with their surroundings.

The EMP Museum at the Seattle Center, seen here in 2006, was designed by Frank Gehry. (Wikipedia)

“That style of concrete architecture has really fallen out of favor recently,” Sirman said of Boston City Hall’s brutalist style. “Also people perceive that it doesn’t represent Boston. When people think of Boston architecture, they tend to picture the Back Bay or Beacon Hill with genteel red brick buildings. This is not that style of architecture. And also in recent years, it’s really been a neglected building.”

Buildings that attract negative reactions include the San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, the Denver Public Library,  The Longaberger Company’s headquarters, and Seattle’s EMP Museum.

The EMP Museum, formerly called the Experience Music Project, was designed by Frank Gehry.

“Apparently, Gehry’s inspiration for that building was a broken guitar – a smashed guitar,” Sirman said. “But it has that same kind of wild geometry that we see in a lot of Gehry’s other projects, that actually has incited criticism even for some of his slightly less hated buildings, [such as] the Status Center here in Cambridge at MIT. It leaks, it’s seen as not functional by some. There were vast cost overruns.”

What buildings do you find ugly? Tell us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.


  • Brian Sirman, Boston University graduate student who teaches the class “reviled architecture.”

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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