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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

GREG GALER
Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

A renewed International Style focal point for thousands at Boston University

The Alan and Sherry Leventhal Center, Boston University

September 24th, 2015  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

South Facade Elevation

The late architectural historian Candace Jenkins referred to what is now the Alan and Sherry Leventhal Center as “a handsome and uncommon example of the International Style in downtown Boston, in particular, and the Boston metropolitan region in general.” Built in 1953, the building served as Boston University’s Hillel House until Hillel’s relocation in 2007, after which it sat challenged for a viable new use. Like many buildings of this era, flexibility and accommodation to new programmatic demands are far from simple.

Today, the building has a new life as a focal point for campus visitors. The Leventhal Center is home to Boston University Admissions Center, where it brings thousands in direct contact with this modern architectural gem adapted to a new use. It blends its unique, site-specific, historic International Style, with new, original design motifs which incorporate its sleek rounded facade, open interior spaces, subtly applied ornamentation, and a textured limestone band. We spoke with Arjun Mande and Todd Symonds of Goody Clancy, the project’s architecture and design firm, to learn more about their role on the renewal of the Leventhal Center.

The Leventhal Center's north facade, as seen from Storrow Drive.

The Leventhal Center’s north facade, as seen from Storrow Drive.

Boston Preservation Alliance: Tell us a bit about the genesis of this project. How did Goody Clancy come to be involved in the Leventhal Center?

Arjun Mande: Boston University (BU) approached Goody Clancy about the project, which essentially involved relocating the admissions center. When we went and saw the building, we fell in love with it. One of the options presented to us was to repurpose the building. The functions that BU wanted for their admissions center worked well for the current building. They were intrigued, and we were excited to find such a fantastic home for Admissions on campus.

Todd Symonds: The location worked well, too. Commonwealth Ave is the face of BU, and Bay State Road is essentially the secondary street at the north edge of the campus. It was already a very pedestrian friendly and heavily-trafficked site, with rare and spectacular views of both the Charles River and the BU campus.

Was this one of the first International-style buildings that Goody Clancy had worked on? Were there any particular considerations or challenges that this presented?

 TS: This was the first International Style building that we’d worked with. It was wonderful to see the quintessential components of this style, and our challenge was to determine how to balance those with our contemporary design interventions. When the building was the Hillel House, it had been a very introverted and inward-looking building. In order to capitalize on the potential views of the river and campus, we placed a glass horizontal band of windows below the limestone band [on the Bay State Road façade]. The massing and composition of the International Style makes this transformation feel true to the original building.

Addition-Exterior

 Are there any components that differentiate working on the Leventhal Center from other projects that you’ve worked on?

AM: The International Style is quite minimalistic, and the majority of buildings that we encounter in our historic preservation work are very ornate. So in that sense, this was different. Working within that boundary, complimenting it in style – but, at the same time, contrasting with it so that the addition stands out – remained a priority. For example, near the new projecting red canopy on the building’s southern façade, you can see both the original vertical slit window and the horizontal line of the new band of windows, allowing you to see how the historic and new elements contribute to the overall design in very distinct ways.

What stands out to you most about this project – either the process through which it was completed, or the completed Center itself?

TS: We had the opportunity to transform the building from an introvert into an extrovert, to meet the needs of the University’s program for Admissions. One of the wonderful outcomes for us was how well the core style of the building could be transformed, but at the same time, anyone who had ever seen the building before would immediately recognize it. As we were researching the history of the building, for example, we noticed that in old photographs the limestone band looked as if it had a missing piece. So we decided to restore the strength of that form to its original grandeur. In addition, the building had been covered by ivy. When we pulled it off, we found that the limestone is a series of squares but there is a striated pattern that rotates from one panel to the next. It’s an amazing subtle addition of texture, and we are very pleased to have been able to uncover it and give it a new life.

What are your thoughts on how the restored Center has positively impacted the University and surrounding area?

TS: The transformation wasn’t limited to the building, but extended to the entire site. One of the key things we were able to do was to move the street edge away, providing for more sidewalk space in front of the building, so that there is now a gracious pathway from which people enter. We were also able to create an outdoor room that provides natural starting and ending points for tours, and serve as a year-round amenity to the campus.

AM: We also worked with the admissions group to choreograph tours. BU provides tours to about 1,400 people a day on peak days in and out of the building.

Anything else you’d like us to know about the project?

TS: The Leventhal Center respects its historic fabric, provides flexibility for future needs, and delivers a beautifully executed design. It was a great collaboration between Goody Clancy, Boston University, and the City of Boston, and we are grateful for the invaluable input and teamwork we received from the BRA and the Bay State Road/Back Bay West Architectural District Commission.

To learn more about the Leventhal Center, click here.
T
o learn more about the 2015 Preservation Achievement Awards, click here.

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2 Responses

  1. Judy says:

    Who was the architect of the original building?

Leave a Reply to Judy