Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building

The triangular plot marks the heart of Roxbury
The Bruce C. Bolling Building proudly looks to the future while referencing the neighborhood’s past
Washington Street Corner
Main Entrance from Bus Station
Curtis facade meets the intricate brickwork of the central volume
Section of New Dudley Square with hand-drawn mural depicting Boston
Second level floor plan with the School Committee Meeting Room
Central lobby as public zone
Contemporary details reference the past
Fenestration in a 'jazzy' rhythm
Roof terrace on the Ferdinand
The brickwork shows a time-honored approach to craftsmanship

Primary Authors

  • Francine Houben / Mecanoo Architecten
  • Victor Vizgaitis / Sasaki Associates

Contributing Authors

  • Shawmut Design and Construction (Construction Manager)
  • PMA Consultants (Project Management)
  • Arup (Structural Engineer / MEPF Engineer)
  • Building Conservation Associates Inc. (Historic Preservation Consultant)

Author

  • Tom Leahy / City of Boston, Public Facilities Department

Photographer

  • Machteld Schoep
  • Anton Grassl

Objectives

Bringing the Boston Public Schools department right into the heart of Roxbury is seen as an act of reinstating a vital piece of the City of Boston back into the neighborhood, anchoring the redevelopment with a strong civic presence. The objective is to create a building in which all the teachers, children and parents can come to in order to meet, train or receive services, all while creating a friendly, healthy and welcoming public space. Since every student and parent in the state will visit the building at least once, the spaces should be inspirational to people of all ages. The design should challenge what an office building is, proposing new ways of working and promoting collaboration and transparency through an open layout. By purchasing the derelict Curtis and Waterman Buildings in addition to the Ferdinand, a more logical plot is created, expanding the project’s ambitions. This allows for a building that is a new focal point for the city, reachable from all three corners. The historic facades of the five-story limestone and terracotta Ferdinand, the Curtis, in its Queen Anne red brick style, and the Waterman, built in the Boston Granite style, are comprehensively restored. A central volume stitches together the existing corners into a bright new building that reaches back out to all sides of the city. In blending new and old into one proud yet subtle, interconnected series of spaces, it boldly looks to the future while referencing the neighborhood’s rich and vibrant past.

Context

Roxbury, near downtown Boston, is a fragmented neighborhood: full of empty lots and blank walls, with little greenery in sight. Nevertheless, there is a clear sense of community. Dudley Square is a triangular plot of ground, graced at one end by the historic Ferdinand Building, a former furniture store. This center of mobility—formerly a terminal for streetcars, buses, and the elevated tram system—remains the convergence point for both the regional and city transport networks. As the busiest transport terminal in Massachusetts, Dudley Square handles tens of thousands of people each day. Its layered built history has been chaotic, and the result is a complex series of tracks, roads, and waiting shelters. The abandoned Ferdinand Building is a symbol for what was once the vibrant heart of Roxbury: a place full of life, bustling with independent shops and jazz cafes. Then Mayor Thomas Menino recognizes that just as Roxbury is the geographical center of Boston, Dudley is the heart and soul of Roxbury. Understanding its significance, he envisions a beacon which is freely accessible to all, cohesively integrating municipal offices and community spaces into one public building. Menino’s government decides that it will be the responsibility of the City to redevelop the site. They will consolidate 500 civil servants from the Boston Public Schools department into a new municipal office building at Dudley Square, in conjunction with a community center and retail space. The new building must play a central role in the reactivation of the surrounding area.

Performance

Referencing the original buildings, the new municipal center embodies a similar time-honored approach to craftsmanship. As a Bostonian building with a Dutch touch, the brickwork encompasses a number of different masonry techniques from running bond, to stack bond, to soldier bond. Within the facade are elements in relief, casting intricate shadows and reflections across one another in a ‘jazzy’ rhythm. Designed with a transparent plinth, a beacon-like crown at the very top, and an extended entablature of masonry in-between, the form of the building defers to the urban grid. The building celebrates the neighborhood’s history as a transport hub by using the void of the historic tracks as the main circulation routes and marking the entrances with overhead illuminated rails. Atop the central volume, the mechanical penthouse doubles as a light beacon announcing Dudley Square’s ‘renaissance’. The first floor serves as an public zone—known as the ‘New Dudley Square’—providing community gathering space, restaurants and retail. The second floor is outfitted with meetings spaces, as well as being home to the Boston Innovation Center. The double-height School Committee Meeting Room can also be used for cultural and community activities. Above are three office floors with flexible work spaces varying from open office floors to small offices for concentration, meeting rooms, and niches along the facades. The sixth floor houses public meeting rooms and a roof terrace that is free and accessible to all, offering vistas across the metropolis towards downtown Boston and the water beyond.

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The triangular plot marks the heart of Roxbury