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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

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

2017 Preservation Achievement Award Winner: Boston College McMullen Museum of Art

In conjunction with our 29th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards, we are profiling each of this year's winning projects. Follow this series to get a special look at projects that honor and update the character of Boston.

September 18th, 2017  |  Posted by: Boston Preservation Alliance

Little Rome, transformed

When Boston College acquired the Archdiocese of Boston’s grand mansion, they were met with the feat of reinventing this symbol of Catholicism to serve a wider audience. The 1927 Renaissance Revival mansion was previously the home of Cardinal William H. O’Connell and successive Cardinals, and was once visited by Pope John Paul II. But after its sale in 2007, the future of the private residence was unclear. Once the centerpiece of the Archdiocese’s ‘Little Rome,’ the stately residence was in need of costly repairs and an adapted purpose.

“Finding successful new uses for large, monumental, institutional buildings isn’t easy, and the cost to rehabilitate them and the value of the land on which they sit often leads to unfortunate outcomes for historic fabric,” said Greg Galer, Executive Director of the Alliance. But when the college decided on an arts district for their newly acquired Brighton Campus, this historic building became the obvious choice for the centerpiece of the project. Already recognized nationally and internationally for its inventive interdisciplinary exhibitions and showcases of archaeological and material culture, the project now positions the museum to capitalize on its momentum and expand its reach.

Before: exterior

Restoration + Expansion

Restoring the grandeur of the façade and the original limestone, marble, and mahogany finishes was first on the list. The roof was realigned, interior ceilings were heightened, and the space was made more energy efficient, all the while preserving the primary view and entrance of the building. But restoration was not the singular intention of the project. Re-use of the space to best serve the museum and its community was a top priority.

By adding a three-story, 7,000 square foot glass circulation space to the existing 23,000 square foot structure, the project team infused natural light and accessibility into what was previously an inward-facing structure. The glass addition contributes an elevator, processional stairway, expansive views, and an inviting entrance to the museum’s new home on the second and third floors of the residence. The residential scaled structure was transformed into a flexible and fluid gallery with double the space the museum had previously at Devlin Hall. “The concept of the addition is centered on clarity between old and new. Visitors can easily understand the limits of the existing building through the incorporation of the existing façade within the glass-enclosed addition,” says one project member. “The new addition is designed such that the details are respectful of the existing structure, both in proportion and materials with detailing that is of a contemporary nature, rather than a confusing replication. The brightness and accessibility of the addition transforms an introverted private mansion into an extroverted art and University Conference Center.”

The new and improved McMullen Museum of Art rivals the finest university museum institutions and is positioned to better serve students, faculty, Bostonians, and visitors. The museum inspires a dynamic appreciation of old and new and fulfills its duty of education to BC students and the larger Boston community. With the dedication of Boston College and benefactor Jacqueline McMullen, an introverted, private residence is now thoroughly accessible, carefully restored, and sustainably programmed for the active use of future generations.




Project Details: 2101 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston College
Owner/Developer: Boston College
Architect: DiMella Shaffer
Project Team: Consigli Construction, CRJA, Gary Wayne Gilbert, Howe Engineers, LAM Partners, McPhail Associates, Nitsch Engineering, Robert Benson Photography, Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, Thornton Tomasetti, Vermeulens, WSP


Researched and written by Jessica Saunders


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