January 21, 2016
An Egg Theater
How would you connect an entirely new form with an historic train depot?
Josiah Stevenson and Susan Crowe Knight from Leers Weinzapfel Associates explain the challenges their firm faced in designing a new performing arts center in the historic 1876 Boston & Maine Railroad Depot at Towers Corner.
Courtesy Leers Weinzapfel Associates
In our last post, we discussed how materials—timber, in this case—can connect past to present in new ways. This post discusses how an entire project spans two centuries via an innovative design solution for an academic arts building at Middlesex Community College (Lowell, MA).
The historic 1876 Boston & Maine Railroad Depot at Towers Corner, sited at a prime juncture within Massachusetts’ Lowell National Historical Park (America’s first cultural park), sat vacant for decades following a series of adaptive reuses. Recognizing its rich history and location as the gateway to the historical downtown, the crumbling structure was preserved through the efforts of the National Park Service. In need of a new performing arts center and realizing its potential for both town and gown, Middlesex Community College and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased the crumbling structure and commissioned our firm to give it a fresh life.
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Charged with reimagining the depot’s shell to contain teaching and performance spaces, we devised an innovative solution for the hidden gem at its heart: a 177-seat “egg theater.” Its commonplace yet compelling form solved our design challenge in three ways: structurally, in support of the facade; functionally, by maximizing seating while providing adequate lobby circulation, and metaphorically, as a visceral symbol of the rebirth of the arts in this venerable city.
We’re looking at ways to connect to the existing building, the college, and the city. This is where you come in. We ask you, “How would you approach a design solution for this building?” We’d like to hear your thoughts.
Josiah Stevenson, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, is a principal Leers Weinzapfel Associates and leads the firm’s community and civic projects. Josiah’s dedication to both the conceptual and pragmatic dimensions of architecture have made him a particularly successful designer of complex renovations and additions. He has led the design of several award-winning civic projects, including the Dudley Square Neighborhood Police Station, the first LEED Gold Certified building for the City of Boston. He is currently working on the Middlesex Community College Performing Arts Building, which blends major urban impact, inventive and cost effective design, and the sustainable repurposing of a precious historic structure. A graduate of Dartmouth College and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, he is the president-elect of the Boston Society of Architects, and previously served on the BSA’s Board of Directors, the Honors and Awards Committee as both chair and member, and on the Harleston Parker Committee, a group awarding the “most beautiful building in Boston.”
Susan Crowe Knight, AIA, is an architect at Leers Weinzapfel Associates. Since joining the firm in 2009, she has been an integral part of the design team for complex higher education and theater projects including Oak and Laurel Halls at the University of Connecticut, the renovation of the Salem State University Mainstage Theater, and the Middlesex Community College Performing Arts Center. Susan received her Master of Architecture from Rice University and Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University. She has been a guest critic at several architecture schools and is currently the co-chair of the Membership Enrichment Committee of the Boston Society of Architects.
This blog series, part of our “voices from inside the profession”, is written by the staff of Leers Weinzapfel Associates, Boston. It explores the firm’s mission of “making connections” across all aspects of design. A ubiquitous concept today, collaboration on every front has been the essence of the firm’s DNA for more than three decades. Posts provide a behind-the-scenes look at the ways the firm’s work serves the public realm by connecting people to place; building to urban context, landscape, and infrastructure; and past to future. Unexpected writing pairs will connect to reflect on the practice’s goals, decisions, outcomes, and learnings across typologies and design challenges, with an emphasis on how connectivity serves the greater good.