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Boston Government Service Center, designed by Paul Rudolph / Photograph: Mark Pasnik

March 1, 2020

Why Boston’s Brutalism is Beautiful

—and what the neoclassicism vs. modernism debate misses. A reading list on the architecture wars.

Trump’s draft executive order condemning the modernism of an aesthetic elite in favor of popular neoclassicism has sparked a spirited—and, at times, toxic—debate.

While fans of modernism are labelling neoclassicist buildings “fascist,” and defenders of Doric columns hurling the same accusation back at them, our latest essay argues that the controversy has obscured the diversity of each style and started on the wrong foot entirely. “The most objectionable enthusiasts of a style should not exclusively define its memory,” Anthony Paletta writes, “and there are more interesting questions here than which style is the ‘most’ fascist.” 

Alongside this new piece, we’ve gathered a range of essays from our archive that examine architecture and design. They explore whether buildings were better under socialism, and if Boston’s City Hall deserves to be disliked (spoiler alert: it doesn’t). These selections add further context and nuance to the debate Trump started.

Anthony Paletta

A draft executive order condemns the modernism of an aesthetic elite in favor of popular neoclassicism.

Stephen Phelan

Shigeru Ban's humanitarianism is unquestioned, but are his designs too humble to warrant architecture's most coveted prize?

Anthony Paletta

Yugoslavia produced a thrilling variety of buildings—frequently departing from the prefabricated monotony of the Eastern Bloc.

Salonee Bhaman, Pedro A. Regalado
New York public housing is plagued with problems, but it possesses a democratic advantage that voucher systems lack: residents can hold the state accountable not only as tenants but as constituents.
Anthony Paletta

Boston’s concrete modernist architecture is unsurpassed and widely despised.

Liza Oliver

Two attractions in Alabama—the new national lynching memorial and the First Confederate White House—show a nation struggling to contend with its legacy of racial violence.

Benjamin Soskis
The Apple Carnegie Library embodies recent developments in philanthropy that should trouble us: the uncritical valorization of philanthro-capitalism and the privatization of public goods and public spaces.

Our weekly themed Reading Lists compile the best of Boston Review’s archive. Sign up for our newsletters to get them straight to your inbox before they appear online.

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