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BSA News

May 03, 2023

BSA Supports the Reclaiming of an Old Courthouse Into an Arts Center

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Image by Susi Sanchez, UX Studio

With the support of the BSA, the City of Malden is realizing its dream of converting a retired district courthouse into a Center for Arts and Culture.

When the Malden District Court House formally closed operations in late 2020, the City of Malden saw an opportunity to repurpose a historic building and celebrate the booming creativity and diversity of its community. The city’s vision was to transform the century-old building into a welcoming place that brings people, art, and community together—a center for arts and culture. But the City of Malden knew it could not do it alone. The building’s infrastructure was in questionable condition and there was no budget to support this idea.

In spring of 2020, the BSA started a program to connect mission-driven organizations across the region to local architects and designers. These new collaborations would merge communities’ deep understanding of their neighborhoods with the expertise of designers to encourage stewardship of place, confront injustice, and foster joy. Through this call for submissions, the BSA received 56 responses from design teams/individuals and eight proposals from communities, one of which was the City of Malden.

The City of Malden pitched its idea to the BSA in hopes of partnering with architects who could help develop its vision of creating a space that would provide local artists with the tools to practice, showcase, and sell their art. The BSA was inspired by the city’s goals and felt it was well-positioned to add value to this important project. Using its convening power and network, the BSA connected the City of Malden with Susi Sanchez from UX Architecture Studio (one of only a few local architecture firms owned by a woman of color) and David Silverman from STA Design to conduct a feasibility study, assess and analyze the existing building, estimate costs for renovation, and provide pro-bono technical support. For Sanchez, the BSA is a critical resource for learning about and getting access to opportunities like this one: “Having the BSA act as a gateway into these kinds of opportunities for small, emerging minority-owned firms is crucial.”

An equitable community input process for this project was a high priority for the City of Malden and the BSA. While Sanchez and Silverman began their feasibility study of the building, the BSA and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) supported the City of Malden in a community co-design process to develop an inclusive vision and plan for the Malden Arts Center. The co-design process was led by a 12-person steering committee, made up of local artists and community members, and involved surveying community members in seven different languages. Together, all partners published their findings in a Concept Plan in August 2022 that serves as a guiding schema for the repurposing of the building.

Since the publication of the concept plan, the City of Malden has moved full steam ahead on developing the Center for Arts and Culture. In August of last year, the city confirmed the purchase of the courthouse from the state of Massachusetts and has received two grants to continue working with Susi Sanchez and David Silverman on the feasibility study and a market study. The architects have invited acoustic, structural, and landscape engineers to participate in the feasibility study and are exploring possible revenue streams for the building. Plans for more community outreach are in the works as well as a Request for Quote to identify an operating partner for the space.

Through its Architectural Futures work, the BSA continues to connect architects and designers to communities to help advance projects that will enrich the lives of Boston area residents. As Sanchez mentioned, “Finding the need, then finding the resource to fill the need. As an architect, that’s been the biggest value that I’ve found from the BSA.”