Building Boston: A Scale-Model City

This is the 23rd post in my series on Boston’s Hidden Gems.

Okay, I admit it: I love models, miniatures and dioramas. I also get excited by watching Boston grow and develop. So how could not admire the evolving scale model of the entire city of Boston that resides at the BSA Space?

If you have ever wanted to get a bird’s-eye view of the city—assuming that your wings will take you very high—here’s your chance. The model, which takes up most of the storefront gallery at the Boston Society of Architects, gets updated regularly so you can see just how much the city has grown up as well as out.

If you have ever wanted to get a bird’s-eye view of the city—assuming that you can fly very high—this is it. The model, which takes up most of the storefront gallery at the Boston Society of Architects, gets updated regularly so you can see just how much the city has grown up as well as out.

The Building Boston Model Photo by BSA/AIA

Where Did the Model Come From?

Although impressive, the model’s origins lack clarity The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) created the model, which they called Building Boston, in 1975, although the actual work is unattributed. The BRA probably displayed the miniature city with surrounding neighborhoods in their offices to show the city’s changing skyline to the public and to city officials. This first model disappeared into storage, however, when the BRA create a new and larger version. We can be thankful they didn’t just toss it.

The Building Boston model returned to service in 2004 when the Boston Police Department used it to plan security for the Democratic National Convention, held in what is now the TD Garden. Someone cleaned away dust collected over the years and updated it for that event. The BPD used the model for a year or so until it went back into storage, where it remained for over a decade.

A Model City Reborn

Building Boston emerged from its vault in 2013, when a group of organizations decided to put the scale-model city back on display. The Boston Society of Architects/AIA, the BSA Foundation and the BRA got together and again dusted off Building Boston before putting it back on display. CBT Architects restored and updated it meticulously before installing the model in the Storefront Gallery.

The model takes up the main floor of the Storefront Gallery — big enough to walk around, lean over and examine in detail. It gives you a totally different view of the city so you can see how the different neighborhoods relate to one another as well as how low the city used to be.

As the model changes with the city, CBT Architects have their work cut out for them. Building Boston seems like a prophetic title for the miniature city given how much construction is going on almost everywhere. The model makers and miniaturists should stay busy for quite some time. The Seaport District alone has new buildings going up seemingly every day while Boylston Street behind Fenway Park and the area around the TD Garden are both sprouting new big structures.

The South End, the High Spine and the Back Bay

Building Boston seems like a prophetic title for the miniature city given how much construction is going on almost everywhere. Because the model must change to reflect the city’s growth, CBT Architects have their work cut out for them. New buildings go up seemingly every day in the Seaport District alone while Boylston Street behind Fenway Park and the area around the TD Garden sprout new big structures.The High Spine has grown considerably higher these days than the model shows. Those additions should keep the model makers and miniaturists busy for quite some time.

To keep up with Boston’s biggest construction projects, check out Crane Watch Boston at:  http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/datacenter/crane-watch.html?ana=twt
Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on a push pin for information about each project.

Transforming Boston

When many of the current projects have been completed, they will transform the actual Boston. A city of brick and sandstone through the nineteenth century, Boston added many “brutalist” structures of raw concrete during the redevelopment period of the seventies. With glass the building material of choice in the 21st century, the new skyline sparkles, glitters, reflects and mirrors the world around it.

As the model changes with the city, CBT Architects have their work cut out for them. Building Boston seems like a prophetic title for the miniature city given how much construction is going on almost everywhere. The model makers and miniaturists should stay busy for quite some time. The Seaport District alone has new buildings going up seemingly every day while Boylston Street behind Fenway Park and the area around the TD Garden are both sprouting new big structures.

Beacon Hill, the West End, and the Financial District

You wont’ see that glitter in the scale model, of course, although its miniature structures do imitate the colors of real buildings. The Hancock Tower appears in blue to show how it reflects the sky and the Christian Science complex is a sparkling white. The South End and Back Bay remain a  historically accurate shade of brown. We’ll see how miniature versions of new buildings appear in the model.

Information and Directions to Building Boston

The BSA Space
290 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210

The BSA Space, located in the renovated Atlantic Wharf building on Congress Street just before the bridge over the Fort Point Channel, provides a hidden resource all by itself. It offers underground parking that has a set fee on weekends. So you can park and explore all day without racking up a big bill. I first discovered the BSA Space in 2013 when I took the training course to be a Boston By Foot docent.

The BSA Space is a resource of its own. Located in the renovated Atlantic Wharf building, it offers underground parking that is a set fee on weekends. So you can park and explore all day without racking up a big bill. Visiting the Storefront Gallery is free but a donation is requested.

Atlantic Wharf building on Congress Street

You can enter the Storefront Gallery from the street or from the lobby. There’s no charge but a donation is requested.

The BSA Space’s lobby provides a cool place to sit and clean restrooms to visit before you set out for the Harborwalk, the Boston Tea Party Museum, the Children’s Museum or the numerous restaurants along the waterfront. You will find all the information you need to plan your visit, including the nearest MBTA stop, on their website at: http://www.architects.org/bsaspace/visit

Boston’s Hidden Gems

  1. Tenshin-en
  2. The Mapparium
  3. Boston Public Library Courtyard
  4. The Ether Dome
  5. The Tiffany Sanctuary
  6. The Salada Tea Doors
  7. Museum Restoration
  8. St. Francis Garden
  9. History Dioramas
  10. Exchange Staircase
  11. Pru Garden
  12. Angel of the Waters
  13. The Ayer Mansion Lobby
  14. The Catalonian Chapel
  15. The Vertical Garden on Merrimac Street
  16. The Vilna Shul
  17. The Great Elm on the Boston Common
  18. The Copley Station Headhouse
  19. The Rose Kennedy Rose Garden
  20. The Province House Steps Connect 3 Centuries
  21. The Boston Harbor Hotel Grand Observatory
  22. Independence Wharf Observation Deck

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