Rethink City Hall!

Read on for a history of the Rethink City Hall Master Planning Study completed by Utile and Reed Hilderbrand in 2017.

To learn more about the current City Hall Plaza renovation project's design that is now underway, head to

Mayor Martin J. Walsh thanks all of the citizens, community groups, professional organizations, abutters and others who participated in this effort to make City Hall and its Plaza a more thriving, healthy and innovative space. Through this effort, stakeholders came together to Rethink City Hall and imagine ways to transform it into a space that welcomes visitors, works for constituents, and inspires pride in its citizens.

Read the final report here! [pdf, 143MB]

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The Boston City Hall and Plaza Study is a one-year comprehensive planning process, linked to several recent and ongoing initiatives.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh has devised a holistic approach that includes a call for big ideas, near term experiments, and a search for enthusiastic partners, all grounded by a comprehensive planning process. The plan will combine innovative design thinking with a workable implementation approach. This effort will learn from the spring Twitter campaign and successful temporary installations on the Plaza, combined with a hard look at the state of the building systems, strategies for creating a greener environment, and ways that the functions of City Hall can be reorganized into more welcoming, engaging and collaborative spaces.

It's Not 1968 Anymore

City Hall first opened in 1968. At the time, all record keeping and transactions were done with paper. File cabinets filled the lower levels of the building, clerks pushed carts through corridors, and the citizens of Boston lined up at dozens of identical concrete transaction counters to do business ranging from paying parking tickets to getting marriage licenses. As the City transforms more of these transactions and record-keeping functions to digital space, why do people still come to City Hall? We want to create an accessible, meaningful and uplifting experience for the full range of these interactions, whether they are one-on-one meetings to seek advice, raucous public meetings, or one of life’s important milestones.

At the same time, the typical office environment has radically changed since 1968. Creative work is now done in open office environments with a wide range of informal breakout spaces and meeting rooms. City government will be more innovative if we can convert the administrative areas of City Hall into spaces that promote equal access, collaboration and creativity.

Integrating Innovative Design Thinking and a Viable Business Approach

In conventional feasibility studies, design proposals are proposed and then priced. This kind of process often results in sticker shock and the realization that funding sources are not available to implement the project. Processes like these have been the undoing of several previous attempts to reimagine City Hall and the Plaza.

The City has devised a strategic process for Rethink City Hall! that seamlessly integrates innovative design thinking with a viable business approach. The proposed schedule reverses typical master planning processes and explores potential implementation and revenue strategies before illustrating specific physical design proposals.

Physical Design

Implementation Strategy

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Planning and Design Team

The Public Facilities Department is managing the Boston City Hall and Plaza Study. Utile, an architecture and planning firm, has been selected to lead a design team that is made up of an impressive group of development specialists, designers, and engineers.

The process includes collaborative conversations that encourage city agencies, surrounding property owners, and the larger community to offer their ideas. Our goal is to synthesize the best approaches in the final recommendation.

Public Engagement

The City is committed to an open and interactive process that includes a project website, stakeholder meetings, and public forums. The website will be updated on an ongoing basis with the research, analysis, conceptual hunches, and design scenarios generated by the consultant team. The web site will also announce the date, time, location, and agenda of community meetings and will have links to all past presentations.

Stakeholder meetings and public forums will focus on the wide range of social, cultural, and organizational issues that should shape the final recommendation. The team will consider the many suggestions that have emerged during recent outreach efforts and they have devised a compelling and open process designed to maximize future participation.

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A Three-phase Planning Process

Our approach organizes the City Hall master planning process into three phases. Each phase includes a clearly articulated series of tasks for the consultant team and a corresponding decision needed from the City.

Phase One will establish the business plan for the potential realignment of City-owned property, the reorganization of administrative departments, and financing approaches. Phase Two will convert the business plan into several alternative design scenarios, resulting in the selection of a preferred scheme. In Phase Three, the preferred approach will be developed, resulting in compelling visual material, a project budget, and an implementation plan.

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Mayor Martin J. Walsh

City of Boston