The story of the $124 million Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood is a long architectural saga with an unexpected happy ending. In 2006, late Boston Mayor Thomas Menino first raised the idea of bringing Dudley Square, the historic center of the city’s African-American community, back to life by redeveloping the block that included the long-vacant Ferdinand Furniture building. Dutch firm Mecanoo and locally-based Sasaki Associates teamed up to enter a competition for the site two years later. The design—to create a centralized headquarters for Boston Public Schools (BPS)—had to satisfy two demanding communities: Roxbury residents and business owners and the 500 BPS employees being relocated there from sites across the city.
But it couldn’t be too expensive and, at least initially, it couldn’t be iconic: “Dudley Square has been the recipient of a lot of heroic urban design and planning ideas,” says Kairos Shen, director of planning for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). “Francine [Houben, Hon. FAIA, the creative director of Mecanoo] and Sasaki won with a concept about what the square meant. This wasn’t an iconic autonomous building that you could immediately recognize—even though now you do.”