Dudley Square is a triangular plot of ground in Roxbury, near downtown Boston, graced at one end by the historic Ferdinand Building, a former furniture store. This centre of mobility – formerly a terminal for streetcars, buses, and the elevated tram system – remains the convergence point for both the regional and city transport networks. The abandoned Ferdinand Building is a symbol for what was once the vibrant heart of Roxbury: a place full of life, bustling with independent shops and jazz cafes.
Then Mayor Thomas Menino recognizes Dudley Square’s significance. He envisions a beacon which is freely accessible to all, cohesively integrating municipal offices and community spaces into one public building. Menino’s government decides that the City will redevelop the site by consolidating 500 civil servants from the Boston Public Schools department into a new municipal building at Dudley Square. The objective is to create a building in which all the teachers, children and parents can come to in order to meet, train or receive services, all while creating a friendly, healthy and welcoming public space. The spaces should be inspirational to people of all ages. The design should challenge what an office building is, proposing new ways of working and promoting collaboration and transparency through an open layout.
By purchasing the derelict Curtis and Waterman Buildings in addition to the Ferdinand, a more logical plot is created, expanding the project’s ambitions. The historic facades of the five-story limestone and terracotta Ferdinand, the Curtis - in Queen Anne red brick style, and the Waterman, built in the Boston Granite style, are comprehensively restored. A central volume stitches together the existing corners into a bright new building that reaches back out to all sides of the city. In blending new and old into one proud yet subtle, interconnected series of spaces, it boldly looks to the future while referencing the neighbourhood’s rich and vibrant past.
Referencing the original buildings, the new municipal centre embodies a similar time-honoured approach to craftsmanship. As a Bostonian building with a Dutch touch, the brickwork encompasses a number of different masonry techniques from running bond, to stack bond, to soldier bond. Within the facade are elements in relief, casting intricate shadows and reflections across one another in a ‘jazzy’ rhythm.
Designed with a transparent plinth, a beacon-like crown at the very top, and an extended entablature of masonry in-between, the form of the building defers to the urban grid. The building celebrates the neighbourhood’s history as a transport hub by using the void of the historic tracks as the main circulation routes and marking the entrances with overhead illuminated rails. Atop the central volume, the mechanical penthouse doubles as a light beacon announcing Dudley Square’s ‘renaissance’.
The first floor serves as an public zone – the ‘New Dudley Square’ – providing community gathering space, restaurants and retail. The second floor is outfitted with meetings spaces, as well as being home to the Boston Innovation Center. Above are three office floors with flexible work spaces varying from open office floors to small offices for concentration, meeting rooms, and niches along the facades. The sixth floor houses public meeting rooms and a roof terrace that is free and accessible to all, offering vistas across the metropolis towards downtown Boston and the water beyond.
Mecanoo architecten, founded in 1984 in Delft, The Netherlands, focusses on process, consultation, context, urban scale and integrated sustainable design strategies to create culturally significant buildings with a human touch. Founder and creative director Francine Houben sees the office as a symphony orchestra, bringing together urbanism, landscape, architecture, restoration and interior design in a coherent way. Mecanoo has become an internationally renowned practice that continues to thrive, developing projects that seek identity in a globalised world.
Sasaki Associates, headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts (US) comprises architecture, interior design, planning, urban design, landscape architecture, graphic design, and civil engineering, as well as software development. Among these disciplines, the practice collaborates in equilibrium. Project teams consist of practitioners from diverse backgrounds coming together to create unique, contextual, enduring solutions.