Unleash the Cranes!

Don Chiofaro's proposed project is just one of several towers that may rise above Boston over the coming years.



Developer Don Chiofaro unveiled plans on Wednesday for a pair of towers to be built on what is now the Harbor Garage, located on Atlantic Avenue along the waterfront and the Rose Kennedy Greenway near the New England Aquarium. The higher of the two buildings would be 600 feet tall; the other, 550 feet tall, and there would be a mix of residential and office space. A retractable roof between the two buildings, as wide as 70 feet, would allow for summer sunbathing and winter ice skating.

It’s an ambitious plan, to be sure, and one that’s bound to raise significant questions and major concerns from the many people affected by the proposal: abutters of the property, including management at the Aquarium and residents of the Harbor Towers; from Vivien Li and the Boston Harbor Association, who have been relentless in their defense of what gets built anywhere in sight of the ocean; from Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who is ultimately responsible for what gets built in the city, and where; from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which, under the city’s previous mayor, rejected earlier proposals from Chiofaro; and even from the Federal Aviation Authority, which limits the height of buildings in the path of airplanes leaving Logan Airport, directly across the Harbor.

If Don Chiofaro’s tower ends up being built—and that’s a big “if”—it will join what is now an exclusive club of skyscrapers in Boston that are taller than 600 feet (John Hancock, Prudential Tower, Federal Reserve, One Boston Place, and International Place), in addition to a second group of towers that are proposed (South Station Tower), approved (Christian Science Center / Four Seasons, The Boston Garden at North Station, Copley Place / Simon Residences), or under construction (Millennium Tower).

What’s fascinating about the skyscrapers proposed and under construction right now that they all include a residential component. In cities of the 1800s, church steeples were often the tallest structures; in the 1900s, office towers took over. Now, in the 2000s, apartments and condominiums are a reflection of what is popular and who is powerful. God and Church, then business, and now, for lack of a better term, the wealthy.

What’s going on in Boston Proper right now is amazing. For 140 years, residential housing was limited to the Federalist-style brick buildings of Beacon Hill, the Victorian-style brick buildings of the South End, and the granite brownstones of the Back Bay. It wasn’t until the Ritz-Carlton Towers were built on the edge of the Boston Common in 2001 that the city saw its first residential high-rises.

It now seems a tipping point is at hand. There will be a mass of high-end, uber-luxury condo buildings in the city, giving home buyers options they never had before. Will they bite? Will they choose large and luxury in glass and steel buildings over the quaint beauty of a Back Bay brownstone? Will Beacon Hill  lose its luster? Will the city’s next generation of wealthy homeowners choose to live in towers rather than in neighborhoods?

And, if they do, what happens to Boston then?