The Dudley Square municipal facility in Roxbury, which broke ground in March, is a major effort in Boston—of utmost importance to Mayor Menino, the community, and here at Sasaki. The project repurposes the iconic Ferdinand Blue Store, as well as the Curtis and Waterman buildings also located on Washington Street in Roxbury. The project is intended to serve the dual purposes of providing a catalyst for neighborhood development and creating a state-of-the-art, centrally-located headquarters for the Boston Public Schools (BPS) administrative offices. The project is important—and also profoundly complex. It requires extensive community engagement, coordination with various city departments and regulatory organizations, technical considerations, and design ingenuity.
Last week Sasaki associate Nick Brooks presented the project with City of Boston senior project manager Maureen Anderson to the BSA Historic Resources Committee. Over bagels and coffee at the BSA's new space on Congress Street, Nick and Maureen discussed the goals, strategies, and challenges of the project.
Nick and Maureen underscored the project team's ongoing dialogue with the community to ensure the work addresses their concerns and objectives. One such concern is the character of the neighborhood after the BPS staff goes home. In response, the design team has dedicated the first floor to 19,000 square feet of retail and dining, which is intended to engage and activate the street into the evening. A green roof also will be accessible to the community, offering sweeping views of the Boston skyline. Overall, the team considers the project a vision for the building and the neighborhood—a village that is the social heart of Roxbury.
The upper floors of the facility will be dedicated to the office environment for BPS. An open layout will facilitate collaboration and maximize square footage, and technology will be integrated to meet—and even exceed—contemporary expectations.
One challenge has been to determine the right design sensibility for the site—successfully integrating Boston's historic character (think brownstones and wooden spires) with forward-looking, innovative design (like ultra-flexible spaces filled with natural light). At the building's exterior, the design team is working to incorporate the historic structures in a meaningful way, with the Ferdinand as the focal point. New construction is recessed from the historic facades so they retain their original volume and relationship to the street. "They read as themselves—not as wallpaper," explained Nick. Former uses on the site also inform the design, such as interior circulation that traces the passing of the old elevated Orange Line, which was torn down in the 1980s.
Nick and Maureen also discussed the regulatory challenges of working with historic structures in Boston. They specifically addressed the requirements of Article 85, a zoning regulation intended to ensure that no feasible alternative to demolition exists for historically sensitive properties. "While we never believed that taking down the buildings was the option, the article 85 process allowed us to explain our thought process to the community and the [Boston Landmarks Commission]," said Nick. "It has been said that familiarity breeds love. We hope to use the familiarity with the Ferdinand, Curtis, and Waterman buildings to continue positive outcomes as a function of the new building."