Exhibit B: The City, Illustrated

Construction may have stalled out on the streets of Boston, but buildings continue to rise in a cramped room on the ninth floor of City Hall. That’s where the Boston Redevelopment Authority, now celebrating its 50th anniversary, keeps this mini city rendered in balsa wood at a precise 1:480 scale. Started in 1986 as a simple planning tool and since added to as needed, the display (which is open to the public) has evolved into a living artifact as wonderfully quirky as its subject. 

Chief modeler Kevin Hurley and colleague Richard LeBlanc carefully scale down details from aerial photographs and architectural plans. Mayor Menino’s proposed 1,000-foot tower at Winthrop Square yielded a replica just over 24 inches tall.

Often redeployed to build life-size objects—including outdoor tables at Faneuil Hall—Hurley and LeBlanc only recently got around to tearing down the Central Artery and are in the process of landscaping the Greenway.

Hurley’s first re-creation of the Custom House was stolen (a similar theft befell the Bunker Hill Monument); it took him four weeks to craft this replacement.

Some projects, like this 1996 design for an expanded aquarium by Schwartz/Silver Architects, never get built full size. Being left in place is a better fate than the alternative: Retired buildings get unceremoniously boxed up and shipped off to storage.

When balsa wood won’t work, the modelers get creative: They made Christopher Columbus Park’s trellises from hair curlers, and carved hundreds of individual trees from sheets of foam.

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