Archives: August 2007

Alternatives to Demolition: Paul Rudolph’s Blue Cross Blue Shield Office Building (1960)

In 2007 Paul Rudolph’s 1960 Blue Cross Blue Shield office building was slated for demolition to make way for New England’s tallest tower by Renzo Piano. Intrigued by the collision of new and old, CUBE set out to explore alternative forms of preservation and to help resolve the preservation vs. development conflict. The development plans have since been shelved due to the economic downturn, but we quickly realized this was not an isolated problem.

The legacy of Rudolph’s building lies mainly in its innovative facade that contains the mechanical and structural systems; thereby freeing the interior floor space for office use. Drawing from the work of artist Gordon Matta-Clark, we hypothesized a series of concepts that reinterpreted preservation as: integration, anatomical exhibition, dissection, public art and remnant in the form of an animated video. In doing so, we revealed aspects of the building that prompted a new understanding of its cultural contributions, and began a new dialogue about how architecture should be preserved in the modern age.

Blue Cross Building Cultural Significance:

1) Pushes architectural invention forward by rethinking mechanical integration:

– Created a vertical ventilation system on the building facade, making it one of the earliest precursors to the high-tech modernism style.
– Pushes pre-cast concrete panel technology forward to respond to new systems integration.

2) Rethinks the office building space plan:
– Creates maximum interior space flexibility by pushing interior columns and ventilation system to the facade.

3) Political response against the International Style and for context:
– Responding against the flat reflective-glass and steel towers of the International Style, Rudolph set out to create an expressive three-dimensional facade with more humanely scaled window proportions derived from neighboring buildings of the time. The building is the only one among its neighbors to offer public space at the ground floor.

4) A transitional building in the work of architect Paul Rudolph: his first tall building, and the first modernist building in downtown Boston.