Harbor Towers

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Harbor Towers
Harbor Towers.jpg
A view of the Harbor Towers from Boston Harbor
General information
Type Residential
Architectural style Brutalist
Location East India Row, Boston, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°21′28.64″N 71°02′59.89″W / 42.3579556°N 71.0499694°W / 42.3579556; -71.0499694Coordinates: 42°21′28.64″N 71°02′59.89″W / 42.3579556°N 71.0499694°W / 42.3579556; -71.0499694
Completed 1971
Roof 400.0 ft (121.9 m) / 396 ft (121 m)
Technical details
Structural system Reinforced concrete
Floor count 40
Design and construction
Architect I.M. Pei & Partners

The Harbor Towers are two Brutalist-era 40-story residential towers located on the waterfront of the US city of Boston, nestled between the New England Aquarium and the iconic Rowes Wharf mixed use development. Harbor Towers I, the taller of the two towers, stands at 400.0 feet (121.9 m), while Harbor Towers II rises 396 feet (121 m). The towers are the 26th and 28th-tallest buildings in Boston, respectively.

Initially built as affordable rental housing, the Harbor Towers first welcomed residents in 1971. While the modern looking towers offered unparalleled harborfront and city skyline views, the architectural style, with contributions from renowned architect I.M. Pei, was out of place in the provincial New England port city. The area surrounding the project was at that time a rough, dusty warehouse district with more surface parking lots per acre than any other area of the city.[citation needed] Once separated from the city's financial district by a two-story elevated highway, and from the neighboring Italian-American North End by its isolated modern look and feel, the apartments seemed apart from the city. As the area surrounding the Towers developed into a focal point of the city, this once-criticized pair of high rise buildings has become one of the city's most desirable addresses.


The Harbor Towers (far right) are very prominent in the Boston skyline when viewed from Boston Harbor

The Harbor Towers apartment complex was completed in 1971 by the Berenson Corporation, as an affordable housing option near Boston's financial district. The towers are well known in the architectural community, having been designed by Henry N. Cobb, who also designed Boston's John Hancock Tower and collaborated with Pei on Boston's City Hall Plaza, at I.M. Pei & Partners (now Pei Cobb Freed & Partners). At 40 stories, they are the city's tallest residential towers.[1] Sponsored by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), as a way to bring new life to Boston's waterfront, which was at the time a seedy-looking, dusty area mostly made up of parking lots, the project became a cornerstone for future progress in the area.

Originally planned with three 40-story towers, the development only built two, along with a parking garage. The much-derided design has garnered many critics in Boston for its "brutalist" architecture, a style that was thought to be inconsistent with historic Boston. In particular, the surrounding area includes sites such as the waterfront area and the North End, which is known for its Italian community and its preservation of 17th- and 18th-century architecture.

As the growth of the city moved toward the waterfront, the unparalleled nature of the apartment tower's location, and harbor and city views drew the attention during the "condominium conversion" craze of the early 1980s. In 1981, both apartment towers started a two-year process of conversion to condominiums, with special incentives for existing renters to purchase at heavily discounted prices. Many of these early apartment renters now own several units, often combined to create breathtaking wrap-around units with as much as 5,000 square feet (460 m2) (464 square meters) of living space. Some of these "early adopters" now own multi-million dollar units, with as little as US$100,000 to $200,000 total investment. Newcomers to the building buy units for $600,000 to as much as $3,000,000, paying for the spectacular harbor and city views and also for the location, which is less than three city blocks from the city's financial district.

The more recent development of the adjacent Rowes Wharf/Boston Harbor Hotel, a landmark development of significant architectural and aesthetic significance to the city's skyline, as well as the expansion of the New England Aquarium, have made the twin towers even more desirable. The completion of the Central Artery Project (The Big Dig), with its expansive necklace of greenspace, gardens, and public space, has made these now historic apartment buildings central characters in the most costly urban improvement project in US history at the time.

The much-maligned towers have survived tremendous change along Boston's waterfront, and tenants who purchased homes early in the process have seen the largest increases in property values of any urban Boston location.[citation needed]

The imposing towers with 624 units on the waterfront have been a premiere address for downtown dwellers, with some of the best views of the city and harbor. Over the decades, the towers have had minimal renovation, with the electrical, ventilation, and heating and air-conditioning systems in need of repair or replacement. Since a 2002 report by R.G. Vanderweil Engineers LLP that documented corrosion of heating and cooling water pipes, the buildings' systems have been studied by multiple engineering firms and consultants.

Architectural details[edit]

The apartments are organized in a pinwheel fashion around a central core, and are made of cast in place reinforced concrete. The concrete exterior balconies have a giant zipper-like appearance against the flat facade.[2]

The stainless steel sculpture at the base of the buildings is Untitled Landscape by David von Schlegell, and was created in 1964.[1] It is often mistaken for solar panels.

School district[edit]

Any school-age children living in the towers are eligible for the Boston Public Schools. For elementary and middle school, students may apply to:

  • Any school within the location's "assignment zone"
    • In this case, the North Zone [1]
  • Any school within the location's "walk zone," regardless of the school's "assignment zone."
    • Eligible "walk zone" schools not citywide and not within the North Zone: Gavin Middle School [2]
  • Any citywide elementary school, middle school, and K-8

All high schools are "citywide."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Boston Harborwalk: Places To Go...: Downtown/North End: India Wharf / Harbor Towers
  2. ^ AIA Guide to Boston, Susan and Michael Southworth, page 66-67

External links[edit]