Part of the program to revitalize the city initiated by Mayor John B. Hynes and realized by Mayor John F. Collins and urban planner Edward J. Logue, this twenty-seven-acre complex marks the beginning of the revival of Back Bay. A massive urban renewal project, the Prudential Center was built over the expansive old railway yards and was coordinated with the extension of the Massachusetts Turnpike from Weston to Boston. Its urban design concept is that of the 1960s, the creation of a city within a city with multifunctional uses. Composed of the high-rise tower, a group of luxury slab apartment buildings standing on large open wind-swept plazas, along with a convention center, the entity had a fatal flaw in its lack of accessibility at street level, the entire mass being set 18 feet above the city streets. Apartments were designed for maximum security and facilities for underground parking. The freestanding solid fifty-two-story tower, its exterior articulation of glass and steel, has become an important landmark, locally and regionally, due to its visibility, and its top story restaurant boasts one of the best views in town.
Although the model may have been Rockefeller Center in New York City, the failure of the Prudential Center at the urban level led to the formation of the Prudential Project Advisory Committee in 1984. A collaborative planning process initiated by architects and neighborhood and civic groups oversaw the redevelopment process. Spurred on by a combination of inner city politics, market dynamics, and changing ideas regarding mixed-use projects, this group looked to the success of the Copley Place mall (BB40) and took advantage of the pedestrian bridge linking the two entities.
European galleries may have been the inspiration, but they are here cast in a postmodern mode. Enclosed shopping arcades have replaced former open-air terraces. Steeply pitched planes of glass supported by steel beams allow daylight to stream into the interiors, enhanced by a sophisticated system of layered lights. The “streets” are enclosed by glazed passages lined with shops, the ubiquitous fast food court, and gathering spaces at the intersection of the arcades, theoretically forming a central court.
Together with Copley Place, adjacent hotels, the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center, and access to public transit, the Prudential Mall has become a prime shopping area, while contributing little to enliven the streetscape. Nevertheless, the Prudential Center stands at the western end of the Boylston Street spine and the connection of the Back Bay to the South End.