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School of Law Tower Makeover Wins Preservation Award

Massachusetts Historical Commission honors BU’s “significant achievement”

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BU Law Tower

The renovation of BU’s Law Tower, a brutalist-style structure built in the 1960s, has won the Massachusetts Historical Commission's 2016 Preservation Award. Photo by Melissa Ostrow

The BU School of Law’s 2015 makeover fostered a renewed appreciation for the so-called brutalist-style, poured concrete Law Tower. Restored to its colorful midcentury façade while opening and brightening the formerly cramped space within, the building is winning over those who once considered it an eyesore.

Now the project—the Law Tower renovation and the new Sumner M. Redstone building adjoining it—has won the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s Preservation Award, an honor that is not given lightly, says lead architect Leland Cott of Bruner/Cott Architects and Planners, the firm responsible for the renovation. In informing the school of the award, which was presented at a ceremony last Friday, William Francis Galvin, secretary of the commonwealth, applauded the rehabilitation and restoration, calling the project a “significant achievement” and “an outstanding contribution to historic preservation.”

“The LAW project is an excellent example of the convergence of evolving, programmatic needs of the University’s academic programs, the need to replace or reinvest in facilities at the end of their useful lives, and our good fortune that the Law Tower lent itself to adaptive reuse as faculty and staff offices with modern, energy-efficient systems,” says Gary Nicksa, BU senior vice president of operations.

The project was nominated for the award by the Cambridge-based Bruner/Cott, whose projects run the gamut from the restoration of University Hall in Harvard Yard, built from 1813 to 1815 and designed by noted early American architect Charles Bullfinch, to the cavernous, whimsical spaces of MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass. Cott was a student of Josep Lluís Sert, the Law Tower’s original architect, who was a friend of Picasso and Miro and a protégé of Le Corbusier. Cott says he hopes more preservationists will broaden their definition of historical to include midcentury modern buildings. The commission’s recognition of the tower renovation reflects its growing appreciation for the brutalist style and its significance, he says. Cott is a champion of brutalist architecture and often gives talks on its virtues.

“The University was very forward-thinking in wanting to see this building in its historic context,” in spite of the prevailing perception of the tower “as an unfriendly building,” he says. But the BU administration saw the 18-story structure as an asset rather than a liability, and the commission’s early approval of the project, and now the award, are affirmations of a broadened definition of historic. “It’s a style many landmark and historical commissions don’t think is preservation-worthy,” Cott says. “We take this award very seriously,” and it signals “a new definition” of historic architecture.

The tower’s renovation and the addition, which cost an estimated $173 million, have already attracted admiration and interest from developers hoping to build similar structures, according to Cott.

5 Comments
Susan Seligson, Senior Writer for BU Today and Bostonia
Susan Seligson

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.

5 Comments on School of Law Tower Makeover Wins Preservation Award

  • MET Alum on 05.23.2016 at 8:17 am

    The LAW tower was originally the LAW-EDUCATION tower, The lower floors were occupied by the School of Education. In 1970 there were more law students than today yet they need twice the space?

    • Silvia Glick on 05.23.2016 at 9:40 am

      The law school’s facility was awful when I went to school there in the 1990s. If you want to attract good students, you have to have a first-class facility. The law school is an asset to the university. So yes, the law school needed a new building.

  • BU Student on 05.23.2016 at 10:37 am

    What the heck does historic preservation have to do with in-use, modern buildings? Most people I’ve talked with about it agree that the LAW building is very, very ugly.

    “Here, let’s make this building look like it did 50 years ago, even though modern architecture looks much better”

  • MET Alum on 05.23.2016 at 12:14 pm

    But the law school now has three times the space but only 60% as many students as it had in the 1970’s. Please explain that.

  • Adam on 05.27.2016 at 9:48 am

    It’s looks have improved dramatically, yet it is still the ugliest building on campus.

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