Government Service Center

Behind The Design of The Government Service Center

The Government Service Center, an unfinished building dreamt to change infrastructure of the future.

Government Center is a collection of buildings in the Downtown area of Boston. It is comprised of six main buildings, including Boston City Hall, the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, City Hall Plaza and the Government Service Center. In the 1950s, following many postwar architectural renewal projects around the world, the city of Boston included Government Center in its urban renewal project. The new Government Center was to replace the previous city square, Scollay Square. Over the next decade, more than one thousand buildings were demolished and over twenty thousand residents were displaced to create the new Government Center. One of the less prominent buildings in the plaza was the Government Service Center. Designed by architect Paul Rudolph, this concrete, brutalist building was inspired by Boston City Hall, which had been designed by Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles’s, an architecture firm now known as Kallmann, McKinnell, and Wood. The purpose of the Government Service Center would be to house government offices for city health, education and wellness programs. One of the most interesting aspects of this building was the emphasis on public spaces and Rudolph’s desire to have inclusive, connected pieces that stimulated visitors emotionally.
Paul Rudolph was born on October 13th, 1918 in Elkton, Kentucky. In his early life, he traveled around the South with his father, who was a traveling Methodist minister. In this way, Rudolph could see much of the architecture of the southern part of America. He expanded on his early interests in creative design by attending Auburn University in 1940, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in architecture. After graduation, Rudolph continued his education and attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design and received a master’s degree in 1947. After graduating, Rudolph moved to Florida to start to work and build a practice. He and his partner, Ralph Twitchell started a practice in Sarasota, Florida in 1952. Their architectural design and style expanded on the already modernist style that Rudolph possessed.
Rudolph was known to make bold attempts in incorporating reality and abstractness within his work. Within his skill, he showed “an admiration of interwar modernism, an interest in experimental materials and techniques, and a desire to adjust modern tenets to the cultural and regional conditions of the site” (Barber, Daniel). For example, he thought that using concrete to design the Government service center gave the building a more powerful and confident look other than glass which gave a less traditional feeling. Rudolph wanted to introduce useful spaces in the center that would eliminate agoraphobia, the fear of spaces to the public, and allow visitors to feel compelled to connect with the space. His admiration with utilizing space stems from Japanese culture. Japanese “shibui spaces”, or dedicated tea time in empty spaces, “encourages the mind to seek depths in the absence of things” such as furniture (Yukio Futagawa).This building should be able to touch people, and teach the public to build on their surroundings.
The postmodern aspects and complexity for this building also stems from Rudolph’s opinion on other architecture. Although the City Hall Plaza was well received by the public when built between 1963-1968, Rudolph was not at all please with its construction because it was “too unstructured to provide an embracing civic environment”( “too unstructured to provide an embracing civic environment”). To contrast with the Plaza’s flatness and one dimensional aspects, Rudolph incorporated shell- shaped set curved staircase, considered “an unforgettable landmark compared to the relatively featureless City Hall Plaza”(Timothy M. Rohan). He wanted to recognized certain aspects of Boston in his design such as using, carvings of the sea which borders Boston, and an image of a progressive government. That way, these features will help connect the public embrace the reputation of the building.

Images

Paul Rudolph Staircase

Paul Rudolph Staircase

Lindemann Building grand interior staircase | Creator: Michael Porto View File Details Page

Paul Rudolph Chapel

Paul Rudolph Chapel

Interior view of the Lindemann building chapel from the second floor balcony, looking down on the alter. | Creator: Michael Porto View File Details Page

Staniford Street facade

Staniford Street facade

Government Services Building, Boston, Massachusetts | Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_Service_Center_(Boston)#/media/File:Boston_Govt_Svcs_Building.jpg | Creator: Marc N. Belanger View File Details Page

Urban Portal

Urban Portal

View into the courtyard space inside the "Urban Portal" | Creator: Michael Porto View File Details Page

Intersection of New Chardon St. and Cambridge St., Boston, 2010

Intersection of New Chardon St. and Cambridge St., Boston, 2010

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_Service_Center_(Boston)#/media/File:2010_NewChardonSt_Boston.jpg | Creator: M2545 View File Details Page

Rudolph Sun Shading Devices

Rudolph Sun Shading Devices

View of the Hurley Building from the top level of the plaza. | Creator: Michael Porto View File Details Page

Street Address:

Boston, MA 02114
Located at Cambridge, Staniford, and New Chardon Streets. [map]

Cite this Page:

James Houston, Mike Porto, Janeseey Simon, “Government Service Center,” Boston History, accessed January 22, 2018, http://explorebostonhistory.org/items/show/13.

Share this Story