Field Trip :: Flour and Grain Exchange Building

The Flour and Grain Exchange Building // Photo by Steve Marcelin
By Steve Marcelin, BArch Candidate

This week, I visited the Flour and Grain Exchange Building, a granite structure located at 177 Milk Street in Boston. The Flour and Grain Exchange Building is a Romanesque Revival style building, originally built to serve as the meeting hall for the Chamber of Commerce.

Masonry Detail // Photo by Steve Marcelin
Completed in 1892, the masonry of the building was meant to resemble the Romanesque revival style of H.R Richardson. The building was constructed on land donated by Henry M. Whitney, an influential developer, who built the first electric-powered streetcar ride in Allston-Brighton in 1888. At the time when it was constructed, the use of rock faced masonry and sturdy walls was a symbolic expression of financial security. Later in 1988, the exterior was restored by Beal Companies.

Tiered Arched Windows // Photo by Steve Marcelin
The building has tiered arched windows and a conical roof at the northwest corner, and looks like a crown from a far distance. Pink Worcester Quarry granite from Milford, MA was used to construct the external walls, which are backed with solid brick, faced on the inside with hollow brick, with the plaster of the rooms being placed directly on the hollow brick. All of these materials are heavy -- the building stands on piles, and each pile holds seven and a half tons.

Interior Hallway // Photo by Steve Marcelin
Marble tile was used in the interior of the vestibules and lower corridors, and the vestibules and lower corridors are wainscoted with white Italian marble. The hallways on the floors above the first story are wainscoted in oak, with rift sawed yellow pine floors.

Masonry Details // Photo by Steve Marcelin
Approaching the building, it looked like a crown, but as I got closer, I began to notice the detail within the masonry. The semi-circular arches, and the mass of the stone, made me feel as if I was experiencing a medieval building; which is characteristic of Romanesque buildings. Upon entering the Flour and Grain Exchange Building, I found myself in hallway with array of Corinthian columns leading to stairs.

My Volunteer is as tall as the column // Photo by Steve Marcelin
One of the things that I noticed was that the higher someone went up the stairs, the smaller the windows at the pause of each one of the set of stairs got. I decide to investigate a little by seeing what parts of the building related to the human scale. I was able to get a volunteer to stand next to the columns on stair case and witness that the column was the same height as him.

Interior of the Roof // Photo by Steve Marcelin
During my visit, I was lucky to run into one of my instructors, Todd Shafer, who is also an Associate at Perry Dean Rogers Partners Architects--a design firm located within the Flour and Grain Exchange Building.

View from the Rooftop // Photo by Steve Marcelin
Todd gave me a tour and pointed out the interesting spaces inside the building, such as his office under the cone-shaped roof, where you can view the edges of the city and see the building's relation to the seaport. The floors and ceilings of the offices in the 6th and 7th stories are suspended from the pyramidal roof.

Photo by Steve Marcelin
To conclude my visit, we exited the building in the same entrance where I came into the building, except this time I paid close attention to the ornaments rather than the space. As I was in the hallway heading toward the exit, I noticed something that I have that I missed before--a large metal plaque. The plaque talks about how in this space in 1912, the 5th International Congress of Chambers of Commerce and of Commercial and Industrial Associations was held for three days, with President William Howard Taft in attendance, along with delegates from fifty-five countries.

Entrance // Photo by Steve Marcelin
If you ever find yourself in downtown Boston, I suggest checking out the Flour and Grain Exchange Building. It is also one block away from the Custom House. Even if it is just a walk around its perimeter, you will enjoy the architectural elements in and around the building.