John Hancock Tower

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Hancock Place
John Hancock Tower.jpg
A view of Hancock Place from the Charles River
General information
TypeOffice
Location200 Clarendon Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116, United States
Coordinates42°20′57.4″N 71°04′29.2″W / 42.349278°N 71.074778°W / 42.349278; -71.074778Coordinates: 42°20′57.4″N 71°04′29.2″W / 42.349278°N 71.074778°W / 42.349278; -71.074778
Construction started1968
Completed1976
OwnerBoston Properties
Height
Roof790 ft (240.8 m)
Technical details
Floor count60
Design and construction
ArchitectHenry N. Cobb of I.M. Pei & Partners
DeveloperJohn Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company
 
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Hancock Place
John Hancock Tower.jpg
A view of Hancock Place from the Charles River
General information
TypeOffice
Location200 Clarendon Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116, United States
Coordinates42°20′57.4″N 71°04′29.2″W / 42.349278°N 71.074778°W / 42.349278; -71.074778Coordinates: 42°20′57.4″N 71°04′29.2″W / 42.349278°N 71.074778°W / 42.349278; -71.074778
Construction started1968
Completed1976
OwnerBoston Properties
Height
Roof790 ft (240.8 m)
Technical details
Floor count60
Design and construction
ArchitectHenry N. Cobb of I.M. Pei & Partners
DeveloperJohn Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company

The John Hancock Tower, officially named Hancock Place and colloquially known as The Hancock, is a 60-story, 790 ft (240 m) skyscraper in Boston. The tower was designed by Henry N. Cobb of the firm I. M. Pei & Partners and was completed in 1976.[1] 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 Twenty-five Year Award.[2] It has been the tallest building in Boston for more than 30 years and is the tallest building in New England.

The street address is 200 Clarendon Street, but occupants use both "Hancock Place" and "200 Clarendon Street" as mailing addresses for offices in the building. John Hancock Insurance was the main tenant of the building when it opened, but the company announced in 2004 that some offices would relocate to a new building at 601 Congress Street, in Fort Point, Boston.

Architecture[edit]

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, 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.[citation needed]

In 1972, Cobb's design of the Hancock Tower took the glass monolith skyscraper concept to new heights. The tower is an achievement in minimalist, modernist skyscraper design.

Minimalism was the design principle behind the tower. The largest possible panes of glass 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.[3]

Characteristics

Engineering flaws[edit]

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 increased from $75 million to $175 million. It was an embarrassment for the firm, for modernist architects, and for the architecture industry.[4]

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 St. James Avenue. Hancock ultimately paid for all the repairs.

There were problems with the innovative use of blue reflective glass in a steel tower: Entire 4' × 11', 500-lb (1.2 × 3.4 m, 227 kg) windowpanes detached from the building and crashed to the sidewalk hundreds of feet below. Police closed 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 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.[5]

In October 1973, I.M. Pei & Partners announced that all 10,344 window panes would each be replaced by a single pane, heat-treated panel at a total cost between $5 million and $7 million.[5] Approximately 5,000 of the original glass panes were removed intact, and were later reused by artists.[6]

During the many months it took to diagnose and repair the building, sheets of plywood replaced many of the missing 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). People joked 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.[7] 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 ft (5.2 m) square by 3 ft (0.91 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.

The John Hancock Tower seen from the Prudential Tower; on the left is Copley Square (and Trinity Church), to the upper left is the Boston Common, on the right is the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) and to the top right is Logan International Airport.

According to Campbell, engineers 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.[7]

History[edit]

An observation deck with spectacular views of Boston was a popular attraction. However, it was closed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10] 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)[11] 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.[12] In October 2010, Boston Properties acquired the John Hancock Tower for $930 million.[13]

View of the John Hancock Tower at blue hour
John Hancock Tower, 2013

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[edit]

About a year after the falling windows problem was resolved, novelist John Updike wrote in a story,[7]

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.

In the TV series Fringe, the building is used for FBI Headquarters. However, the actual FBI Boston headquarters are located at One Center Plaza.[14]

The "Plywood Palace" also inspired Robert Byrne's novel Skyscraper.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "John Hancock Tower". Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  2. ^ "Twenty Five Year Award Recipients". American Institute of Architects. Retrieved 2013-07-03. 
  3. ^ Farragher, Thomas (24 September 2006). "Hancock Tower at 30: 60 stories and countless tales". The Boston Globe (boston.com). Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  4. ^ Wiseman, Carter (1 September 1990). I.M. Pei: A Profile in American Architecture. New York: Harry N. Abrams. pp. 139–153. ISBN 978-0810937093. 
  5. ^ a b Levy, Matthys; [[Mario Salvadori|Salvadori, Mario]] (1992). Why Buildings Fall Down. W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 203–205. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  6. ^ "How Art Springs Forth From Broken Windows". The New York Times (NYTimes.com). 3 January 1988. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  7. ^ a b c Campbell, Robert (3 March 1995). "Builder Faced Bigger Crisis Than Falling Windows". The Boston Globe (The Pulitzer Prizes). Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  8. ^ Colletti, Carolyn (14 September 2001). "Hancock Tower observatory is shut permanently". The Boston Globe (boston.com). Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  9. ^ Park, Madison (15 June 2005). "Searching for an answer on 60th floor". The Boston Globe (boston.com). Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  10. ^ Gross, Daniel; Stuart Johnson (5 September 2009). "The Skyscraper That Ate a Billion Dollars: Boston's Hancock Tower and the coming commercial real estate crisis". Slate. 
  11. ^ Yu, Hui-Yong; Green, Peter S. (31 March 2009). "Hancock Tower Sells at About Half Price to Normandy". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  12. ^ Ross, Casey (31 March 2009). "Hancock Tower sells for $660m at auction". The Boston Globe (boston.com). Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  13. ^ "Boston Properties buys Boston tower for $930M". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Associated Press. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 
  14. ^ Gallagher, Tina (14 September 2011). "'Fringe' Trivia: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Your Favorite Show". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2013-07-22. 

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Prudential Tower
Tallest Building in Boston
1976–Present
241 m
Succeeded by
None