Site plan: I. M. Pei and Partners and Cossutta Associated Architects.
Landscape: Sasaki, Dawson, DeMay, 1968–1973
Carol R. Johnson Associates, plaza restoration and repair, 2016-2017
Harleston Parker Medal, 1975
Until the late 1960s a row of residential and commercial buildings along Massachusetts and Huntington Avenues obscured all but the dome of the 1905 Mother Church. The Pei-Cossutta plan demolished them, and imposed a geometric clarity on the site, much in the way Bernini’s piazza for St. Peter’s in Rome monumentalized an already existing building. The overall plan is in the formal Renaissance and Baroque planning traditions, while the new buildings surrounding the plaza are modernist abstractions. Some believe that the shape of the site plan was inspired by the tall stained glass windows in the original Mother Church, with the fountain in the place of the circular rose windows at the top.
At the time of its original construction, this long, triangular property sat at the intersection of three neighborhoods, Back Bay, the South End, and the Fenway, and each one presented a neglected border to the site. In that context, the architects created strong visual and physical edges to create a protected, turned-in plaza, using long, massive buildings and dense stands of trees and hardscaping.