In Memoriam: Henry Cobb, architect of Boston’s Hancock Tower, 93

Henry Cobb

John Hancock Tower (200 Clarendon), designed by Henry N. Cobb. Photo by Tim Sackton, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

NEW YORK (AP) – Architect Henry N. Cobb, who designed the tallest building in New England, has died. He was 93.

Cobb died Monday at his Manhattan home, according to his firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

The most celebrated building of Cobb’s 70-year career was the 800-foot-tall glass skyscraper now called 200 Clarendon but still widely known as the John Hancock Tower in Boston.

Landscape architect Laurie Olin, who worked with Cobb on several projects, called him “an architect’s architect.”

“He was a great collaborator. He was a great intellect. He was a very warm friend,” Olin told The Boston Globe. “Usually, you might get one or two of those qualities, but you don’t get all. You did with Harry.”

Cobb was born in Boston on April 8, 1926, and grew up in Brookline. He studied at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design where he first met prominent architect I.M. Pei, who was his teacher, The New York Times reported.

Cobb moved to New York in 1950 to start his career in skyscraper architecture but ended up designing multiple buildings in Boston, including Harbor Towers and the John Joseph Moakley U.S. Courthouse and Harborpark.

Cobb also designed the Place Ville Marie in Montreal, the campus of the State University of New York Fredonia, and the Johnson & Johnson world headquarters in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Although the Hancock Tower — often confused with Chicago’s John Hancock Center — ended up becoming a Boston icon on par with the Old North Church, it wasn’t immediately accepted.

Many people protested plans because it was close to beloved Copley Square. Then, as construction neared completion in 1972, glass panels weighing as much as 500 pounds (230 kilograms) each started falling from the facade.

Many Bostonians called the falling glass “retribution for overreaching,” Cobb told The New York Times in 2010.

The firm ordered replacement glass, but the bad publicity and litigation costs nearly drove the Pei firm to financial ruin. Cobb focused primarily on designing office buildings as the firm rebounded.

Survivors include his wife, Joan; three daughters; and three grandchildren.


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