Skip to Content

atlantic wharf

BSA Space: Take a look

The Boston Society of Architects is moving to a new, public-centered space in Boston’s Atlantic Wharf building in late 2011. Designed by Howeler + Yoon Architects and constructed by Commodore, BSA Space boasts more room, more amenities and more exhibits. Take a look.

Atlantic Wharf. Rendering by CBT Architects.

Click image above to view slideshow.

Increased exhibit space

Emerging onto the second floor at 290 Congress Street, Fort Point Channel stretches before you. Nearly 6,000 square feet of sunlit space showcases cutting-edge design, overlooking a two-story atrium and outdoor landing. Renowned designers serve as guest curators, pushing forward the meaning of design.

Increased member space

Conference rooms dot the gallery floor. “Hot desks” serve as a quick place to catch up on your next client presentation or simply read email. Architects speak over coffee. BSA committees meet simultaneously, generating interdisciplinary dialogue. Landscape architects, contractors, homeowners and urban planners meet. This is where design flourishes.

Increased program space

Five hundred programs a year will pack the halls with Boston’s best building professionals: public lectures, professional development workshops, design festivals, networking events, a college fair and even K–12 education programs. More to do, more room to do it.

For updates, visit

Eric Höweler AIA presents Atlantic Wharf

Eric Höweler AIA, Höweler + Yoon Architecture/MY Studio, discusses plans for the new BSA headquarters. Hosted by Brian Healy AIA. 

This Conversations on Architecture event was part of the Boston Society of Architects Lecture Series.

Architecture and the future of museums

Societal and professional changes are occurring so rapidly these days, it’s a challenge to keep up with the plethora of blogs, magazines and other media regularly bombarding architects with perspectives on our future. Looking forward, my attention focuses on museums because of their distinct ability to engage the public in new and unique ways. Most are not limited to specific user groups, so the museum space encourages participation without exclusion.

In less than 40 years, the demographic landscape within the United States will undergo notable shifts in age, education, ethnicity, immigration status, health and so on. As architects, our design principles must incorporate an awareness of this new data and how it affects the built environment. As an example, statisticians inform that by 2050, increasing numbers of U.S. residents may be more obese and have disabilities or special learning issues. To create buildings that will accommodate such diverse needs, our discipline must integrate universal as well as general principles in design.

Change frequently is accompanied by opportunity, and all designers, whether graphic, industrial, exhibit or architectural, should take note of new paths being created via museum programming. As facilities around the country develop innovative methods of community outreach, so too must architects recognize the inherent power of design to provide new bridges of communication.

Although some museums currently offer English literacy through art, architects should facilitate positive interaction through the conscious design of classrooms, community spaces and other museum facilities.

In her article “A Troubled Legacy: Making and Unmaking Race in the Museum” , Tracy Teslow examines ways in which some museums have alienated visitors and explores steps that are being taken to overcome elitist or intimidating perceptions. Here, too, architects may play a major role in reshaping a museum's image by listening to programmatic needs and suggesting design features that foster greater opportunities for inclusion.

Social media and nonstop interactive interfaces significantly affect our lives and influence the museum experience as well. At Art Basel 2010 in Miami, a panelist in a seminar aptly named “Museums in the Digital Age” stated “It used to be that the IT [department] and the technology of an exhibit was an afterthought; now it needs to be right next to the director’s office as far as approach … Old paradigms for exhibitions have changed. We must figure out what presence we want to have online first and how we want to do it.”

So how can museum designs influence public preferences for interactive online activities? A clear vision in the museum planning process on the part of the client and design team will incorporate advanced mechanical, electrical and plumbing and interactive technologies considerations to address such expectations.

Because of planning cycles and funding constraints, the pace of museum expansion or renovation generally is slow. Today’s infant probably will be an adult before witnessing a new addition at his or her local museum. Although the patron’s experience may be fairly similar to that of 20 years ago, service differs vastly with respect to execution and outreach. Authenticity and reality are relative terms. For example, many may prefer the “authenticity” of objects, art and books. Forty years from now, children may not hold “real” books, yet the reading experience will be no less authentic.

Traditionally, interactivity has been more at home in institutions devoted to science than in those promoting art and history. Currently, museums that engage the public with iPod apps, tweets and foursquare check-ins also rely on social media to involve the community when planning content for future exhibitions. What results is a higher expectation from the public when venturing inside museum walls—an area that, in no small part, is our domain as design professionals.

As museums endeavor to remain true to their missions, they also are changing the way they view themselves. Statistics indicate that museum observers look at art and corresponding text less than a minute before moving on . If attention spans are so limited, how do we engage potential patrons to frequently visit and remain? One solution encourages museums to become “third places,” or venues for informal gathering and social engagement. Stopping by a museum after work to socialize or grab a drink may seem strange to some, yet many organizations, such as the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, Connecticut, are inviting patrons to do exactly that. Elizabeth E. Merritt states in her call to action in the report Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums by Betty Farrell, PhD, and Maria Medvedeva: “We need museums to be places people want to hang out in, not just places they feel they ought to visit—places to check off on their life list, or destinations for the ritual pilgrimage with guests.” As needs arise for new and diverse public programming, steps must be taken to ensure that museums remain viable within patrons’ use network. Architects who desire a central role in shaping these developments will be expected to determine whether best usage will entail new spaces or better use of existing facilities.

Some may question the very need for such buildings at all if people are able to access collections and become part of an online community such as the Adobe Museum of Digital Media or, to the chagrin of architects, even consider a proposal for a virtual museum of architecture.

One thing is clear: we, as architects, must become proactive agents of social change, take the helm and join with clients as strong partners working to guide our communities. Anything less will relegate us to the sidelines.

Aisha Densmore-Bey Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C is the founder and chair of the Museum and Exhibit Design Committee for the Boston Society of Architects. She has led various panel discussions, including "Museums in the Digital Age" at Build Boston 2010. She also will lead a panel discussion regarding architects and museums at the 2011 AIA Convention in New Orleans.

Photograph by Kees van Mansom. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

1. Museum and Social Issues, Volume 2, Number 1 / Spring 2007, Left Coast Press, Inc.
3. "Imagining iMuseums",
5. featured in the January 2011 issue of Architect magazine

Audrey O’Hagan AIA, BSA president, on our time of challenge and of opportunity

“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.” —Charles Darwin

The BSA community can count strength and intelligence among its features, but 2011 President Audrey O’Hagan AIA highlights another trait sometimes overlooked: responsiveness to change.

Many are familiar with O’Hagan’s warm smile and upbeat presence at BSA events, but we rarely get to chat with her about her vision. O’Hagan shares her thoughts and ambitions below.

During the election process, you spoke of a time of challenge and opportunity. What opportunities do you most hope the BSA can take advantage of today?

The world, as we know, is changing, becoming more open and connected as boundaries are eliminated on many different levels. The profession is undergoing tremendous change. Disciplinary boundaries diminish as we see our profession becoming much more collaborative and integrated. In this regard, this is an opportune time to collectively re-examine our role, forging a new path to ensure continued growth, outreach, visibility and relevance.

Although maintaining the DNA that makes the BSA a leader is important, there are still undiscovered possibilities for progress waiting to be born. I look forward to working with members, the board of directors and all stakeholders to craft a new “masterplan,” reflecting current thinking and anticipating the future. I’d like to use our collective wisdom to better connect to the broader public, engage emerging architects and support practices through new programs, exhibitions and events.

You’ve mentioned openness and inclusivity as strengths of the BSA, ones which are not expressed physically. How do you envision a new space facilitating that?

For starters, the proposed new center for design offers visibility into the heart of the BSA space through large storefront windows, providing opportunities for street-level engagement.

Activities at the ground level—a coffee bar, bookshop and concierge for architectural boat tours and other events—as well as lectures, exhibitions and programs on the second floor, will be designed to promote happenstance, where the public may find themselves drawn in unexpectedly.

The center would enable extended public outreach and member services beyond our current capabilities, and facilitate cross-fertilization and serendipitous moments among those attending various events.

Through an open, flexible design, the BSA’s philosophy of openness and inclusivity will soon be reflected holistically in its physical space.

Beyond being an accomplished architect, it’s rumored you are quite an athlete and played Division 1 basketball and volleyball for Kansas. Any parallels between the two?

Well, I’m not sure about “accomplished.” I am, of course, still learning, growing and seeking knowledge, but it is fun to think about the parallels. I would say one of the key similarities is practice. Passionately working at one’s craft, re-examining often and critically, and seeking ways in which to improve is essential to achieving a level of excellence in any field. It also takes great team members (clients or coaches) to achieve a successful outcome. Architecture is a profession where collaboration is absolutely essential, and each member is an important part of the team, contributing his or her expertise, although each may play different roles.

We know the BSA as a unique and vibrant community; however, many people aren’t aware of all that our members are up to. What elements of the BSA would you most like to bring to a wider audience?

As architects and design-profession affiliates, we know good design makes a positive difference in how people live, work and feel. We are problem solvers. We hope our clients will share that fact after each completed project, and we hope they’ll spread the word.

Although it’s the members, not technically the building, who make our organization special, the building is where ideas are born, minds are expanded and knowledge is shared. It is also catalytic to initiatives such as SHIFTboston, Learning By Design, Common Boston, the Community Development Resource Center of Boston and others. A new center will continue our mission of intellectual exchange and investigation of broader issues facing design, practice and our communities—a place for creating connections.

I would like to see a great window opened up so that the BSA community’s commitment, expertise and dedication to design excellence in sustainable buildings and communities are visible.

Syndicate content