The original Back Bay station was built in 1899 by the New Haven Railroad Company, but new societal implications demanded a more modern station to be built in 1987. The lead architect was Kallmann McKinnell & Wood; who were also designed Boston’s City Hall and the John B. Hynes convention center. When it was completed, Back Bay was one of just eight stops along the orange line rail system. Its construction was controversial because the original plan for the Southwest Corridor was to erect an elevated highway system that would cut through the South End and Back Bay neighborhoods. Public protests and community activism were able to halt the construction of the elevated highway in 1971, forcing the city to reallocate the funds to the subway system instead. Today, the Southwest Corridor is home to many more rapid transit stations and over 52 acres of landscaped area designed to benefit the surrounding communities.
Back Bay station fills in the city block between Clarendon and Dartmouth street, and its design focuses on portraying the building as a place of civic importance, while maintaining the traditional train station function. This was one of the first transportation projects in Boston to take this design approach, where the goal is to take advantage of the immense civic value of the building, and using it to help the city as a whole The station was specifically popular because it serviced the Orange Line subway trains, MBTA commuter rail, and Amtrak trains to New York. The form of the building follows a slight curve, which is directly influenced by the path of the rail lines below. This helps further engrave the building into the fabric of the site. The main design feature of the station is the arcade of wooden arches that connect Dartmouth and Clarendon streets. For a design of this scale, steel structural members would have proven to be too expensive, so the architects decided glue-laminated beams with steel connection plates would be the best direction. The entrance to the station on Dartmouth street is framed by one of these wooden arches which is pulled out of the enclosure of the station, and helps form the outdoor space around it. On the opposite end, the Clarendon street entrance in pulled back from the street to provide a thru way for cars and busses. The highlight of this entrance are the free-standing brick clad ventilation towers at the edge of the project. These towers are functional pieces of the ventilation system for the railway below, but also serve as a unique landmark element that draws references from historical parts of the city. There are even salvaged materials and reliefs belonging to the original building that have been reused in the newer one. This helps bring the themes of the South End and Back Bay neighborhoods into the building without duplicating the iconic typologies from the surrounding areas.
Back Bay station had been designed and constructed as a means to help rebuild and redefine a piece of the city, and it is a vital member of Boston’s infrastructure. Recently, there have been proposals for large-scale developments to take place on top of and around the existing Back Bay station. This would help develop the area even further into a mixed-use environment, where people would have the potential to live, work, and be a part of a community all within the limits of a city block. Back Bay station stands as a subtle reminder of traditional Boston values, and what good can come when members of different communities come together to protect their neighborhoods.