Nearly eight years after architecture firm Bruner/Cott Associates won a competition to design a new arts center for Lesley University, construction on the building has finally begun at Porter Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The 70,000-square-foot, LEED Gold-designed Lunder Arts Center, scheduled for completion later this year, will allow the school to relocate its current arts center, the Art Institute, from Boston, where it occupies a converted parking garage. The new artistic hub will contain classrooms, studios, faculty offices, and spaces for collaborative work. The ground floor will feature art exhibition spaces that will also be open to the public.
The $34.6 million project’s progress had been slowed for several years by a controversy surrounding the North Prospect Congregational Church, a 188-ton edifice built in 1845 and purchased by the university in 2006. The church occupied land earmarked for the new arts center, and a plan to relocate it to an adjoining lot initially met stiff resistance from some locals. In 2011, the state land court struck down a suit by several of them that claimed the Cambridge City Council engaged in illegal spot zoning to enable Lesley’s project to go ahead. After losing an appeal in 2012, legal action was abandoned. Last December a team of workers moved the church the intended 80 feet.
Addressing the matter, Bruner/Cott’s Jason Forney, the current principal on the project, told AN that “community interest has been high across the eight years of design/construction.” Forney said that the community-at-large had embraced the project, and added that the relocation of the church, which is to be restored to house an arts library and studios, will actually benefit the neighborhood. “The church structure was moved closer to Massachusetts Avenue and lowered in elevation from twelve feet above grade to five, making the church more visible along the avenue and more inviting to the neighborhood,” he said.
Careful thought was put into making sure the new building meshed seamlessly with the church and the surrounding neighborhood. To this end even the materials used to construct the Lunder Arts Center were carefully considered. “Ivory terracotta was selected for the raised volume housing the studio art making spaces. The scale and detail of the church inform the new building, and its terra cotta detailing harmonizes with neighborhood brick and clapboard,” said Forney.
The buildings’ proximity also necessitated careful consideration. “Care was taken in scaling the studio component and designing connection details between the two structures. We view the design as a ‘combined work’ where old and new support each other—and embraced the challenge of incorporating the historic building into that composition,” said Forney.
Among the features that Forney and his team hope will achieve this symbiosis is the Arts Commons Connector, a three-story glass commons space connecting the buildings that, as Forney explained, “unifies and links the two elements into one whole.”