Heroism and Hubris

Thursday, April 21, 2016, 6 - 6pm

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Kallman, McKinnell & Knowles, Boston City Hall plaza, 1962–69. Photo: © Ezra Stoller/Esto

Kallman, McKinnell & Knowles, Boston City Hall plaza, 1962–69. Photo: © Ezra Stoller/Esto

Often problematically labeled as “Brutalist,” the concrete architecture that transformed Boston—and many other cities—during 1960s and 1970s was conceived with ambitious social ideals by some of the world’s most influential designers. Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston tells the story of a city, a material, and a movement, and how these intersected in the postwar era to make Boston an epicenter of concrete architecture worldwide. At a moment when concrete buildings across the nation are in danger of demolition, Heroic surveys the aspirations of this earlier period and considers anew its legacies—both troubled and inspired.

Among the most evocative and controversial landmarks of this movement, Boston City Hall has remained one of the most misunderstood buildings in the United States ever since the design’s public unveiling in 1962, following a nationwide competition. At its opening in 1969, critic Ada Louise Huxtable hailed the building's power, but wrote of the “architecture gap” between its exceptional design and the public’s already unfavorable reception.

Join authors Mark Pasnik, Chris Grimley, and Michael Kubo in conversation with architect Michael McKinnell, who designed the building with Gerhard Kallmann, on the origins of their work and the structure’s contentious history in the decades since. Joan Ockman and Anthony Vidler will help unpack the complex social and architectural questions surrounding concrete modernism in the United States as reflected in the Boston City Hall competition, a major event within the architectural discourse of the 1960s.

This event is free and open to the public.


Located in the Frederick P. Rose Auditorium, at 41 Cooper Square (on Third Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets)

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.