Architecture of the Christian Science Center Plaza

For the last year, I’ve been working in a building on the Christian Science Center Plaza in Boston. I get a lot of questions about this building and the plaza’s architecture, but I never knew the answers. So – I set out to find out.

The plaza is home to the Mother Church of The First Church of Christ, Scientist – more commonly known as Christian Scientists. The broad topic of Christian Science is too much to cover in this post, the church was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1866 when, as their website describes, a critical injury caused her to understand her faith in a new way.

The oldest building on the plaza is the original Mother Church. The Romanesque Revival-style building was built in 1894 and was followed in 1906 by the Mother Church Extension, arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in Boston.

The building I work in, the Brutalist-style Administration Building tower, constructed in 1972 and now leased to office and academic tenants, is not.

The whole complex was designated a Boston Landmark in 2011.

The Boston Landmarks Commission, which made that designation, was kind enough to release a detailed public report on the features that make the plaza a notable landmark.

The complex contains six buildings – three original buildings, constructed in 1894, 1906, and 1937; and three newer buildings, constructed in the late 20th century along with the plaza that unifies them all.

The 1906 Mother Church Extension is perhaps the most interesting architecturally, described by the Commission as a “cathedral-scale, Byzantine and Renaissance Revival-style church.”

According to the Commission, the building I work in measures “approximately 183 feet long by 86 feet wide” and is “a 26-story office building, with an additional story below ground. The structure rises 355 feet from a rectangular footprint.”

Perhaps the most striking feature of the plaza is the Reflecting Pool, constructed during the 1970s expansion. The Reflecting Pool “measures approximately 690 feet long by 100 feet wide by 26 inches deep, bordered by an infinity edge of curved, polished Minnesota red granite.” Interestingly:

The Reflecting Pool was designed to be functional as well as aesthetic. Although the initial intent was that the Reflecting Pool also serve as the cooling system for the complex, it seems that this function was never implemented with any success. Based on early memos, correspondence, and discussions with facilities staff, it appears that some cooling system use was tried for a portion of one early season and then discontinued as impractical. When the cooling towers were installed at the fifth floor of the Publishing House Building in the early 1970s, the Reflecting Pool water connections for HVAC cooling were eliminated.

 

 

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