Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2015 Preservation Award Winners
Boston University School of Law, Boston

Boston University School of Law • Boston (Allston/Brighton)

Rehabilitation & Restoration

The Boston University School of Law, considered a seminal urban achievement of Spanish modernist architect Josep Lluís Sert, dramatically altered attitudes toward campus planning at the time of its construction in the early 1960s. The school's five concrete structures represent the world's largest collection of Sert-designed buildings, the centerpiece of which is the 1962 Law Tower, which devotees of modern architecture widely regard as one of the most innovative high-rise buildings in New England. Many mid 20th-century architects saw concrete as a liberating new building material, but they did not anticipate future problems such as expansive pressure causing cracking and spalling, the vulnerability of concrete to water penetration at hairline cracks, and the resulting corrosion of underlying steel support systems. Prior to the recent rehabilitation project, years of deferred maintenance had resulted in falling concrete, as well as poorly fitting windows and ventilation panels. The tower's window systems were also highly susceptible to water penetration, and functioned poorly at all floors. Due to the school's growth over the past half-century, the tower's interior circulation no longer functioned efficiently—with the upper-floor classrooms served by small, slow elevators, long waits and overcrowded stairways were the norm.

The comprehensive rehabilitation and restoration of the School of Law began with the production of a detailed preservation and development plan in 2008. Following careful study, the team performed complex concrete restoration, introduced cathodic protection to steel elements to prevent further corrosion, and replaced spalled concrete, along with damaged steel and architectural elements. The Law Tower's original windows did not possess typical water infiltration defenses such as insulated glazing, flashings, special coatings, or thermal breaks. The team replaced all windows and doors with new assemblies to provide the highest level of performance. The new windows are historically appropriate replacements, matching the profiles of Sert's original design. Sert's trademark colored ventilator panels, which had faded extensively, were also replaced, and the original color scheme restored. To improve the tower's obsolete functionality, it was rehabilitated for use as a faculty and administration building, with a new addition at the tower's base providing classroom space. The team designed and placed the addition in such a way that it does not obscure nor detract from Sert's original vision for the campus. The thoughtful, sophisticated rehabilitation of the Law School sets a high standard for preserving modern architecture, which will serve as a guide to the restoration of buildings of similar design.

< < 1 of 12 > >