Photo © Andy Ryan

BSA Space

Höweler + Yoon Architecture

Boston, Massachusetts

With a new, more visible headquarters on the city’s waterfront, the Boston Society of Architects is positioned to become a hub of architectural discussion for both the profession and the public.

By Rita Catinella Orrell

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Working out of an office in Boston’s financial district—inaccessible to the public and incapable of holding large public functions— the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) wanted a change of scene. The AIA chapter found the right match in a 16,000-square-foot space on two floors of the recently completed Atlantic Wharf complex in South Boston’s Four Point Channel, a neighborhood of artists, designers, and cultural institutions. The LEED Gold highrise mixed-use building, designed by Childs Bertman Tseckares, incorporates a new tower and the historic facades of three low-rise Classic Revival–style brick buildings. The new headquarters, known as BSA Space, is located in the 1897 Graphic Arts Building, designed by Boston firms Rand and Taylor, and Kendall and Stevens.

Höweler + Yoon Architecture (a 2007 Architectural Record Design Vanguard) won an open, blind competition among BSA members to design BSA Space, with an interior retrofit concept centered around a bright green steel staircase that lends visual punch to the ground floor and draws visitors up to the second-floor galleries. “We felt the idea had to be this super-clean, bright thing that comes down and scoops you up,” says Eric Höweler, who is a partner in the firm with Meejin Yoon. According to BSA president Laura A. Wernick, as part of their lease the BSA is required to use the space for community and public events; as a result, the nonprofit has taken on the role of organizing exhibitions and staffing an information desk in the 1,500-square-foot street-level gallery, which will serve the Four Point Channel area.

To open up the space and overcome the challenge of small square footage on street level and a larger space above, the team punched a hole through the floor and connected the two levels with the steel stairs (Höweler says the tight construction was “like putting a ship in a bottle”). Since restrictions prevent the installation of modern signage on the historic facade, the staircase and the second floor glimpsed through the windows function as a billboard. The ¾” steel-plate staircase was prefabricated in five pieces by a metal shop in Michigan and then bolted and painted on-site; clear glass risers were added for code. Upstairs, the steel wall connected to the stairs becomes a counter; a matching green soffit continues into the gallery spaces. The decision to pursue LEED-CI Gold certification was a no-brainer, says Höweler, and the methods were straightforward, including the selection of low-VOC paints, location in an urban area, and enhanced commissioning to improve energy performance.

Ascending the stairs, visitors can walk through the 6,000-square-foot second-level gallery, attend meetings, and enjoy views of the harbor through the unobstructed windows on the south-facing facade. Behind a glass wall, a rectangular office area serves BSA staff alongside employees of other design-oriented nonprofit partners. Two irregularly shaped conference rooms float in the gallery like “little islands” to encourage interactions between professionals and the public; their curving exteriors have become part of the exhibition surface. The ceiling accommodates HVAC, lighting, and a channel system to hang exhibits. “We’ve done a lot of exhibition design and we are always frustrated with the spaces,” says Höweler, “so we try to provide for the things an exhibition designer would want.”

In February, the BSA opened their first guest-curated exhibit, exploring the impact of architects and designers on Boston from the 1950s to today. “I hope that BSA Space will demystify architecture,” says Wernick, “and be a welcoming and inclusionary place for people who are interested in design.”

Architect
Höweler + Yoon Architecture LLP*
150 Lincoln St. #3A
Boston MA 02111
617-517-4101.
www.hyarchitecture.com

Completion Date: December 2011

Gross square footage:
16,000 square feet

Construction cost: $2.5 million

March 2012
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