Bostonia is published in print three times a year and updated weekly on the web.
The 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.
The LAW tower renovation and the new Sumner M. Redstone Building adjoining it was a $184 million project. Now the tower 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 on May 20, 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 (Hon.’70), 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 17-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.