Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building - Facility Complex | The Plan
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Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building - Facility Complex

Mecanoo Architecten | Sasaki Associates

The completion by a high-profile European practice of its first project in the United States is automatically something of a career milestone, inviting reflection on the practice’s work thus far and raising the prospect of clues and cues for future work at home and abroad. The practice on this occasion is Mecanoo, based in Delft and led by the resolute Francine Houben. The project is the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, realized together with Sasaki Associates at Dudley Square, an inner-city neighborhood on the cusp of rejuvenation directly south of Downtown Boston.

The Bauhaus master Paul Klee once described drawing as “simply a line going for a walk.” At Dudley Square the design team has taken their façade for a walk. In fact we should say “façades”, as this major new intervention by Mecanoo and Sasaki comprises a family of similarly skinned new volumes, stacked one above the other; furthermore it incorporates the historic façades of several older structures previously occupying a site that, formally, is an island encircled by busy public streets. 

The subsequent plastic collage is like a set of ribbons, or reels of film, at civic scale.

Mecanoo first came to attention with Houben’s own house on an infill site overlooking a small lake, the Kralingse Plas, in Rotterdam. That discreet, lustrous structure reveals in its witty assembly something of the spirit of Charles and Ray Eames and that couple’s house and studio built in Los Angeles three decades earlier. Through the 1990s Mecanoo was responsible for a suite of housing projects across the Netherlands - Rotterdam, Utrecht and Maastricht all benefitted from the young practice’s attention to communal space and to the strategic expression of building components.

Two projects in the Netherlands stand out as evidence of architectural ambition beyond the residential: the university library at Delft...

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