Saltonstall Building, 1965

The Saltonstall building swims in irony. It has recently been added to in an earnest attempt to correct the inattention of its modernist plaza to Cambridge Street. The new architecture—a brick job that illustrates the cheapness of contemporary architecture when set against heroic concrete forms—clumsily enfolds the Saltonstall’s Platonic volume, meeting the old with such inconsequence as to seem an intentional slight against the original. Perhaps this new architecture is a form of retribution, forty years later, for the Saltonstall’s original transgressions against Beacon Hill, with its over-scaled and aggressive stance (as Tad Stahl, architect of the State Street Bank and a nearby neighbor, has observed). Still, Saltonstall is one of the more delicate versions of concrete architecture from its time. Michael McKinnell, architect of City Hall, points out that his generation was reacting against the flimsy brand of corporate architecture from the Fifties produced in steel by firms like Emery Roth & Sons. In this later instance, the establishment has co-opted the concrete language of the young critics. Saltonstall represents the absorption of the revolution, even if something of a watered-down, less powerful version. Its concrete frames form an unrelenting bureaucratic repetition, both profoundly compelling and spiritually demeaning.

Mark Pasnik “Heroic,” 2009