John Hancock Tower
A view of Hancock Place from the Charles River
|Location||200 Clarendon Street, Boston, Massachusetts, United States|
|Roof||790 ft (240.8 m)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Henry N. Cobb of I.M. Pei & Partners|
|Developer||John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company|
The John Hancock Tower, officially named Hancock Place and colloquially known as The Hancock, is a 60-story, 790-foot (241 m) skyscraper in Boston. The tower was designed by Henry N. Cobb of the firm I. M. Pei & Partners and was completed in 1976. In 1977, the American Institute of Architects presented the firm with a National Honor Award for the building and in 2011 conferred on it the AIA Twenty-five Year Award. It has been the tallest building in Boston for more than 30 years, and is the tallest building in New England.
Its street address is 200 Clarendon Street. The company uses both "Hancock Place" and "200 Clarendon Street" as mailing addresses for offices in the building. John Hancock Insurance was originally the main tenant of the building, but the insurance company announced in 2004 that some offices will relocate to a new building at 601 Congress Street, in Fort Point, Boston.
Tall, skinny glass structures were a goal of modernist architecture since Mies Van Der Rohe proposed a glass skyscraper for Berlin. Such buildings as Gordon Bunshaft's Lever House and Mies's Seagram Building in New York City, and Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson Wax Headquarters attempted this goal, but many of these designs retained structural artifacts that prevented a consistent, monolithic look.
Minimalism was the design principle behind the tower. The largest panes of glass possible were used. There are no spandrel panels, and the mullions are minimal. Cobb added a geometric modernist twist by using a parallelogram shape for the tower floor plan. From the most common views, this design makes the corners of the tower appear very sharp. The highly reflective window glass is tinted slightly blue, which results in the tower having only a slight contrast with the sky on a clear day. As a final modernist touch, the short sides of the parallelogram are marked with a deep vertical notch, breaking up the tower's mass and emphasizing its verticality. In late evening, the vertical notch to the northwest catches the last light of the sky, while the larger portions of glass reflect the darkening sky.
A major concern of the architects while designing the tower was its proximity to Boston's Trinity Church, a prominent National Historic Landmark. Their concern led them to redesign the tower's plans, as there was a public outcry when it was revealed that the Hancock Tower would cast its shadow on the church.
The building was a much-anticipated landmark designed by a well-respected architect, but was known in the 1970s for its engineering flaws as well as for its architectural achievement. The opening of the building was delayed from 1971 to 1976, and the total cost is rumored to have rocketed from $75 million to $175 million. It was an embarrassment for the firm, for modernist architects, and for the architecture industry.
During the excavation for the tower's foundation, temporary steel retaining walls were erected to create a space in which to build. The walls warped, giving way to the clay and mud fill of the Back Bay which they were supposed to hold back. The inward bend of the retaining walls damaged utility lines, the sidewalk pavement, and nearby buildings—including the historic Trinity Church across the street. Hancock ultimately paid for all the repairs.
Inventing a way to use the blue reflective glass in a steel tower came at a high price. Entire 4' x 11', 500-lb (1.2 x 3.4 m, 227 kg) windowpanes detached from the building and crashed to the sidewalk hundreds of feet below. Police had to close off surrounding streets whenever winds reached 45 mph (72 km/h). According to the Boston Globe, a scale model of the entire Back Bay was built in MIT's Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel to identify the problem. The research raised questions about the structural integrity of the entire building (due to unanticipated twisting of the structure), but it did not account for the loss of the glass panels. An independent laboratory eventually confirmed that the failure of the glass was due to oscillations and repeated thermal stresses caused by the expansion and contraction of the air between the inner and outer glass panels which formed each window; the resilient bonding between the inner glass, reflective material, and outer glass was so stiff that it was transmitting the force to the outer glass (instead of absorbing it), thus causing the glass to fail.
In October 1973, I.M. Pei & Partners announced that all 10,344 window panes would each be replaced by a single pane, heat-treated variety, at a total cost between $5 million and $7 million. Some of the original glass panes were removed intact, and were later reused by artists.
During the many months it took to diagnose and repair the building, sheets of plywood replaced many of the glass windows of the building, earning it the nicknames "Plywood Palace" and "Plywood Ranch" (the same name as a local lumber yard chain at the time). The joke was that the Hancock Tower was "the world's tallest plywood building".
The building's upper-floor occupants suffered from motion sickness when the building swayed in the wind. To stabilize the movement, contractors installed a tuned mass damper on the 58th floor. As described by Robert Campbell, architecture critic for the Boston Globe:
- Two 300-ton weights sit at opposite ends of the 58th floor of the Hancock. Each weight is a box of steel, filled with lead, 17 feet (5.2 m) square by 3 feet (0.9 m) high. Each weight rests on a steel plate. The plate is covered with lubricant so the weight is free to slide. But the weight is attached to the steel frame of the building by means of springs and shock absorbers. When the Hancock sways, the weight tends to remain still, allowing the floor to slide underneath it. Then, as the springs and shocks take hold, they begin to tug the building back. The effect is like that of a gyroscope, stabilizing the tower. The reason there are two weights, instead of one, is so they can tug in opposite directions when the building twists. The cost of the damper was $3 million. The dampers are free to move a few feet relative to the floor.
According to Robert Campbell, it was discovered that—despite the mass damper—the building could have fallen over under a certain kind of wind loading. The structure was assessed as more unstable on its narrow sides than on the big flat sides. Some 1,500 tons of diagonal steel bracing, costing $5 million, were added to prevent such an event.
An observation deck with spectacular views of Boston was a popular attraction. However, it was closed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Because of the closure of the John Hancock Tower's observation deck, the highest observation deck open to the public in Boston is in the Prudential Tower.
The building's owners cite security as the reason for the continued closure. They have rented the deck for private functions and have expressed intent to replace it with more office space. Boston city officials contend that security concerns are moot, since most similar attractions have long since reopened. In addition, they note that a public observation deck was a requirement for the original building permits to gain public benefit from the high tower. However, they have not been able to locate the documentation of this requirement.
In 2006, Broadway Partners acquired Hancock Place for $1.3 billion. By 2009, they had defaulted on the loans they used to buy the building, and it fell into foreclosure. On March 30, 2009, Hancock Place was sold at auction for $660 million ($20 million was new equity and the $640 million of in-place debt was assumed by the buyer) to a consortium of "Normandy Real Estate Partners" and "Five Mile Capital Partners". The companies had been slowly increasing their investment over the previous months. In October 2010, Boston Properties acquired the John Hancock Tower for $930 million.
The company that built the Hancock Tower and two earlier, similarly named buildings is known loosely as "John Hancock Insurance", or simply "John Hancock". It was known as "The John Hancock Life Insurance Company" in the 1930s and "The John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company" in the 1940s. As of 2000, the company owning the buildings was "John Hancock Financial Services, Inc." with various subsidiaries such as "The John Hancock Variable Life Insurance Company" and "Signator Investors, Inc.". In 2003, the company was acquired by the Canadian Manulife Financial Corporation, but it still uses the name "John Hancock Financial Services, Inc." and those of various subsidiaries.
In popular culture
"Now I am aware of loving only the Hancock Tower, which has had its missing pane restored and is again perfect, unoccupied, changeably blue, taking upon itself the insubstantial shapes of clouds, their porcelain gauze, their adamant dreaming. I reflect that all art, all beauty, is reflection."
The "Plywood Palace" also inspired Robert Byrne's novel Skyscraper.
-  Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Retrieved 2010-04-20
- Thomas Farragher, "Hancock Tower at 30: 60 stories and countless tales", Boston Globe, 24 Sep 2006, accessed 21 Nov 2009
- Wiseman, Carter. I.M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture. New York: H.N. Abrams, 2001. ISBN 0-8109-3477-9. pp. 139–153.
- Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori, Why Buildings Fall Down, (1992), pp. 203-205
- Page 205 of Why Buildings Fall Down (1992), by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori, and available on Google Books 
- "How Art Springs Forth From Broken Windows". New York Times. January 03, 1988. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- Robert Campbell, "Builder Faced Bigger Crisis Than Falling Windows", The Pulitzer Prizes, The Boston Globe, March 3, 1995, accessed 21 Nov 2009
- "Boston.com / US under attack". The Boston Globe.
- Park, Madison. "Searching for an answer on 60th floor: Councilor wants Hancock site open.", Boston Globe, 15 Jun 2005
- Gross, Daniel; Stuart Johnson (2009-09-05). "The Skyscraper That Ate a Billion Dollars: Boston's Hancock Tower and the coming commercial real estate crisis". Slate.
- "Financing a go for Bank of America tower in New York". Daily Commercial News and Construction Record. 2009-07-02. Retrieved 2009-07-02.
- http://www.boston.com/business/ticker/2009/03/hancock_tower_s.html Hancock Tower sells for $660m at auction
- "Boston Properties buys Boston tower for $930M". Business Week. Retrieved 4 October 2010.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: John Hancock Tower|
- John Hancock, for whom John Hancock Insurance was named
- Prudential Tower for an image of the Boston skyline from Cambridge in 1963, with the old 26-story Hancock building a conspicuous landmark.
- List of tallest buildings by U.S. state
- List of tallest buildings in Boston
- Location and size of mass dampers: telephone conversation[original research?] with Richard Henige, LeMessurier Consultants, Inc.
- Oct. 15, 1973. "Those Window Pains", TIME.
- Harl P. Aldrich, James R. Lambrechts (Fall 1986). "Back Bay Boston, Part II: Groundwater Levels", Civil Engineering Practice, Volume 1, Number 2.
- John Hancock Tower at Structurae
- library-towers John Hancock Tower
- Architecture Week When Bad Things Happen to Good Buildings
- The Perfect Skyscraper The Perfect Skyscraper
- Special Report on the Boston Globe; "The Hancock at 30" includes 4 audio slideshows
- Globe Critic, Robert Campbell, on the problems of the John Hancock Tower
|Tallest Building in Boston