How a Mediterranean humanist lost his way in Boston’s skyline

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How a Mediterranean humanist lost his way in Boston’s skyline
Boston University’s law tower, built in 1964, is the work of architect José Luis Sert.

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How a Mediterranean humanist lost his way in Boston’s skyline
Boston University’s law tower, built in 1964, is the work of architect José Luis Sert.

With its icy roads and icy stares, Boston may be the least Catalan city on the earth. True, one can spot the occasional Barça jersey on the subway, but there is little Mediterranean warmth in this cold, northern city. Hispanic cuisine continues to make inroads, as it does everywhere in the United States (the Old Corner Bookstore has reinvented itself as the Old Corner Chipotle). But that generally comes from south of the border, not across the Atlantic. Spain seems far away; Catalonia even further.

So it is surprising that the city fathers turned over some of the most coveted commissions in the history of Boston and Cambridge to a Barcelona architect with a distinctly Mediterranean sense of his own identity. Like him or not, Josep Luis Sert painted an impressive canvas across the region. At the height of the last century, Sert built his Lego-like cubes all around Greater Boston, forever altering the skyline, especially along the Charles River. To this day, thousands driving into the city along Memorial or Storrow drives confront his modernist vision — a Catalan vision — of what a city should look like. […]

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