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BSA News

Jan 13, 2022

Community + Collaborative Design projects: a year in review

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Image courtesy Anda and Jenny French of French2D. Anda French AIA is BSA President.

Another year of the pandemic didn't stop the BSA's C+CD projects from going forward, thanks to the efforts of community partners and spatial designers.

In the midst of a global public health crisis, it's more important than ever to ensure that designing the built environment is a collaborative process that includes a variety of voices and perspectives. As a new year begins, we're taking a look back at last year's projects, as well as looking ahead at what's to come.

Mission Grammar School

Mission Grammar Elementary School is located in the heart of Mission Hill. Serving a diverse population of students and families, the school has functioned as a community hub throughout its impressively long history.

"Mission Grammar has been a part of the Mission Hill neighborhood in Boston for 132 years. In fact, this neighborhood was named for our Church and our school," said Aliece Dutson, President at Mission Grammar. "Over its long history, the school and the Church have played an important role in providing community services to the neighborhood."

The school's goal in partnering with the BSA is to develop new spaces on campus that will host community programs and further its capacity to serve as a center for learning. The design team is headed by Architectural Resources Cambridge (ARC), which is focused on creating a design plan that takes these needs into account, while also restoring existing spaces such as the school's garden.

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The playground at Mission Grammar Elementary School. Photo by BSA staff.

"We are hoping that in partnership with BSA and ARC, we can reimagine and create a meeting place for our scholars and families while also providing services focused on health and wellness of mind, body and spirit," Dutson said.

Currently, the BSA is developing tools to bring Mission Grammar's students into the process. Students will be able to meet the lead architects and learn about master planning, after which classroom exercises will encourage them to complete drawing and writing prompts to share their thoughts.

"These prompts aim to provide ARC with insight into the current student experience at Mission Grammar to best design with their needs in mind," said Taylor Johnson, Design Education Fellow at the BSA. "Additional engagement strategies, such as a school-wide memory map, are planned to roll out later this spring."

Malden Center for Arts and Culture

The old Malden District Courthouse is set to be the venue for something completely different. The City of Malden is currently working with the Commonwealth to convert the courthouse into a new Malden Center for Arts & Culture—and is seeking to involve the local community of residents and artists in the process.

"Establishing a center for arts and culture has been one of the City’s priorities for long time, but it has been difficult to find the right space," said Evan Spetrini, Senior Planner and Policy Manager for the City of Malden. "When we heard the court would not be returning to [its] Summer Street location, we immediately knew it was the perfect building to create a permanent home for arts and culture in Malden."

The courthouse, which is nearly 100 years old, is 20,000 square feet and in a central location, giving it special potential to connect the community and to serve as a gathering space and platform for local artists.

"Greater Boston is a challenging area in which to make a living or even support a hobby or side hustle in the creative and performing arts," said Spetrini. "Malden is uniquely situated with great access to public transportation and a strong creative economy that hasn't yet succumbed to displacement pressures, and we want to do everything we can to support that ecosystem while helping the city as a whole to thrive."

The process of converting a courthouse into an arts center isn't without its challenges. The design team is keenly aware of social and logistical issues that will influence the planning phase. While the courthouse is a structurally sound, classically designed building, its former role in a legal system that has not always been equitable means it carries a history that is painful for some residents.

"For the designer, the challenge is to find a balance that acknowledges the history while transforming the architecture into a welcoming, inclusive place," said Susi Sanchez AIA, founder of UX Architecture Studio. "The existing structure has two main, but not equal, entrances. We envision creating a single, main entrance for all—one that is accessible, welcoming and outwardly communicates the creative, community-driven practice and work happening inside."

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The old Malden District Courthouse. Photo by BSA staff.

The project is currently in its early stages as feasibility assessments proceed in tandem with on-site events that are intended to engage the public in the process.

"As architects, we have been inspired and impressed by the effort that the City of Malden and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council have put into gathering feedback from the community. Frequently projects like this are done in a top-down manner where people are told what they are going to get. The efforts here have been quite the opposite," said David J. Silverman AIA, Principal at Silverman Trykowski Associates.

"We envision a transformation that brings everyone into the same space—a dynamic entrance that can also be used for meeting, gathering, or respite, and will reposition the building as a resource and creative hub for the City of Malden," added Sanchez.

Food for Free

Food insecurity has risen in Boston as a result of the ongoing pandemic. With this in mind, Food for Free, a Cambridge-based food distribution organization, has moved into a larger space in Somerville that can better accommodate their operations. Design firm Prellwitz Chelinski (PCA) provided design assistance as the organization made the shift. Additions to the space include a new donor lounge, which serves as a break space for volunteers, an entry space, and more.

"Design transforms the way we see challenges like hunger and poverty by providing real-life solutions that can help make complex problems less burdensome in an impactful way," said David Snell AIA, Principal at PCA.

Read more about the project and food insecurity in Boston during the pandemic.

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The new Food for Free space. Photo by BSA staff.

Upcoming Projects

Woodrow Avenue Neighborhood Association

C+CD will work in partnership with the Woodrow Avenue Neighborhood Association and the City of Boston to plan a community-driven development process for land in Mattapan's Franklin Field neighborhood.

The project will demystify how development works in Boston for residents and build on the work of Wandy Pascoal, Housing Innovation Fellow, in leading the BSA and City of Boston’s Housing Innovation Competition, titled Co-Creating Boston’s Future Decker.

Read more about the BSA's housing innovation work.

Roxbury Way

For the many cyclists in Greater Boston, C+CD plans to work with community and design partners to create safer, more accessible bike routes between Dorchester and Roxbury, spearheaded by Roxbury Way. Currently in early planning stages, the project will also incorporate public art installations that celebrate the dynamic histories of people and places in the geographies between Franklin Park and the Fens.

These exciting opportunities—and more—will shape C+CD's work in 2022. To support the BSA's new strategic vision focused on equity and climate, these collaborative and community-driven projects will ensure that a better Boston is within reach.