Innovation center's corrugated metal envelope evokes Boston's seagoing past.Commissioned to design District Hall, the centerpiece of Boston's emerging Innovation District, Hacin + Associates found themselves in a unique situation. "There was no context," recalled design team member Matthew Arnold. "We were one of the first buildings down there; we had to build our own story." To fill the gap, the architects looked to the site's history. "In the old days, goods came from around the world to the Boston seaport, then were distributed throughout the United States," said founding principal David Hacin. "We were thinking that this is analogous to an innovation center: ideas are born in this place, then distributed around the world." Wrapped in corrugated metal punctuated by strategic glazing, its two volumes informed by nautical and railroad architecture, District Hall captures both the glory of Boston's seagoing past and the promise of its high-tech future. "The big idea behind District Hall was this two-part building," explained Arnold. A bifurcated design served several purposes simultaneously. First, it allowed the architects to bring a different architectural expression to each side of the program. The larger, more sculptural volume, angled to define the edge of a planned park, acts more like a public space, housing an auditorium and restaurant. The lower, rectangular wing of the building, which is oriented to the existing street grid, contains the innovation center. Second, the two-part form complemented the project's tight budget. "The lower portion of the building didn't require the same level of ceiling heights" as did the auditorium/restaurant space, said Hacin. "We were trying to build volume where we needed it, and not where we didn't need it." On a conceptual level, the bifurcation taps into two elements of the city's past. The taller volume's swooping profile was inspired by nautical architecture, while the lower wing evokes the boxy order of a train yard. District Hall's corrugated metal facade further emphasizes the building's dual identity. "We found this corrugated material to be very intriguing," said Arnold. "It's related to nautical sheds and train cars." Other corrugated facades have begun popping up around Boston, noted Hacin. "But they've used it for the industrial aesthetic, with no real idea behind it. It was kind of cheap, industrial, and cool, but that's as far as it went." Hacin + Associates instead deployed the material as a storytelling device, choosing two different patterns and colors to continue the narrative embodied in the building's form. A shimmering silver metal extruded in a sine wave pattern encloses District Hall's multipurpose wing, while the innovation center is wrapped in matte black with a more squared-off profile. In addition, the architects used flat white trim material to suggest three-dimensionality. "We developed a rationale for how to treat the facade details," explained design team member Scott Thompson. "Where we cut into [the corrugated metal], we treated it as if it was a solid with a different center." The architects minimized glazing in part for budget reasons. "Rather than having lots of windows scattered around, we decided to concentrate them in key locations: at the restaurant, on the corner," said Hacin. "It really is a showcase of the facade material. Sometimes it's about the windows, but in this case the facade material is sculptural—you can see this especially on the silvery volume." The conservative approach to glazing also helps reduce thermal gain. The architects primarily relied on tried and true methods, such as placing few windows on the south-facing facade, and setting the west-side windows back several feet, to meet efficiency goals. "We were really just trying to get the most out of conventional technologies," said Thompson. Ultimately, said Hacin, the true environmental test for District Hall will be whether it is razed in a decade, as planned, or whether it proves its usefulness as a long-term fixture of Boston's Innovation District. "It was built to be a ten-year building," he said. "But my hope is that it will continue to be successful, and that it will become part of the character of this neighborhood—part of what people love about it—in which case there will be no reason to remove it. That would be the most sustainable outcome of all."
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For Bostonians, cranes and scaffolding have become a common fixture in the city’s landscape. In recent years, there’s been a slew of new developments cropping up everywhere from Roxbury to Fenway, with the bulk of construction concentrated in South Boston’s waterfront, and more specifically in a sub-section that Mayor Thomas M. Menino has dubbed the “Innovation District.” AN has compiled a list of some of the most high profile projects happening in the city. South Boston Waterfront Construction of Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ headquarters at Fan Pier is well on its way. Mayor Menino “topped off” the first building this summer, which will be part of a 1.1-million-square-foot development that includes offices, biomedical research laboratories, retail, restaurant spaces, residential units, a hotel, a park, and a marina. Local architecture firms Elkus Manfredi Architects and Tsoi/Kobus & Associates have designed the two towers, slated for completion in 2013 and 2014. Vertex will be leasing the towers for $1.1 billion, which according to Pharmaceutical-Technology.com, is the largest commercial lease in Boston. Across the street from Fan Pier, the $5.5 million Boston Innovation Center, designed by Hacin + Associates, is now under construction. This 12,000-square-foot facility will offer a space for companies to hold meetings and host events, including a restaurant with a test kitchen. The Center is part of Mayor Menino’s vision to turn this part of the city into the Innovation District. There’s been little development on Pier 4 to date, but that's about to change with a new mega complex (aptly called Pier 4) that will kick off with the construction of a 21-story, residential tower. This 9.5-acre mixed-use project, designed by ADD Inc, will consist of a hotel, retail, residential, office, and civic uses. In a story in Boston.com, Casey Ross calls attention to the fate of Anthony’s Pier 4 restaurant—the waterfront institution that will soon be replaced by parkland. The strange plot twist in the story is that Anthony Athanas, the late restaurant owner, had once advocated for a mixed-use development on Pier 4 in the 1980s, but lost the property in a dispute with his former development partner. In an effort to boost Boston’s ranking as one of the top five cities in North America for conventions, the city has approved a $2 billion master plan to expand the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to accommodate several new hotels, retail and commercial space, and a grass-covered rooftop park. The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority (MCCA) issued an RFP for a developer to build and finance the project. While the development is still in its infancy, the MCCA has taken steps towards the expansion with its purchase of six acres of land adjacent to the Center, which they envision will be used for two mid-priced hotels. A spokesman for the MCCA told AN: "We need to build up the number of hotels before we expand the actual convention center." Another 1,000-room "headquarters" hotel is also in the long-term plan. The Boston firm ADD Inc, along with Atlanta-based firm tvsdesign, have drawn up the renderings of the expansion, but no architect of record has been hired yet for the project. Fenway Just when developer John Rosenthal might have thought he was out of the woods, overcoming recent legal hurdles, and ready to move forward with his $450 million Fenway Center Development, he faces yet another roadblock. But this time, as the Boston Globe reports, the conflict is with the state over a long-term lease for the project. If a deal can't be reached, Rosenthal might lose his investor. The plan is to build a mixed-use complex, designed by Carlos Zapata Studio/DHK Architects, over Massachusetts Turnpike, which includes 500 residences, retail and commercial space, and a commuter rail station. Our friends at Curbed reported that the five buildings are supposed to be powered by solar panels. Downtown Crossing When department store Filene's Basement shut its doors, it left a void in downtown Boston. But, it didn't take long for developers to set their sights on this former department store and the surrounding area. As AN reported on Friday, developer Millennium Partners took over the project and hired Handel Architects to renovate the 1912 building by Daniel Burnham and turn into office and retail space. The next phase of the project will be the Millennium Tower, a 625-foot mixed-use tower, which is expected to be the tallest residential building in Boston once it is complete. More views of projects described above: