• Prudential tower, Back Bay skyline at sunset across Charles river, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

    Credit: Getty Images

Boston’s Back Bay Center, designed by a star-studded team of Pietro Belluschi, Walter Gropius, Carl Koch, and Hugh Stubbins, won the First Award in the first P/A Awards Program in 1954. Occupying 23 acres of former rail yards, the winning scheme did not demand the demolition of existing buildings, as often happened in post-war urban renewal, but had all the hallmarks of that era—elevated pedestrian plazas over parking garages, freestanding residential and office towers, and single-loaded shopping arcades. It also had some unusual features, such as a hybrid motel-hotel with a ramp that allowed guests to park in front of their rooms several floors above grade.

Charles Luckman Associates ultimately designed a version of the original mixed-use scheme, called Prudential Center, with the 52-floor Prudential Tower at its core. Ada Louise Huxtable notably called the complex “urban character assassination” when completed in 1964, but today you have a hard time finding where Prudential Center begins and the rest of the city ends. Where the development once stood back from Boylston Street to facilitate auto access, the Hynes Convention Center and newer apartment and office buildings, with retail at their base, now line the sidewalk. And, where sparse retail space once occupied the upper plazas, there now stand active shopping arcades overlooking smaller-scale, intensely planted gardens.

This suggests that urban renewal may have been less character assassination than an architectural provocation, providing a blank slate that cities such as Boston have filled in, while erasing the errors of their past.

1954 P/A Awards Jury
Victor Gruen
George Howe
Eero Saarinen
Fred Severud