Boston Midtown Cultural District Master Plan

Client MP Boston
Location Boston, MA
Project Type Master Planning
Status Completed in 2014

Handel Architects' 20-year effort in Boston was honored in 2014 with an AIANY Honor Award.

For decades, Boston’s blighted Midtown Cultural District defied previous efforts at renewal. Handel Architects' plan for the revitalization of the district has had a significant impact on investment in the area and has contributed to the renaissance of this vital area of Boston.

The initial challenge was how to insert a project of significant scale and to stimulate 24/7 activity on four irregular open lots fronting seven streets in the southern part of the district. The buildings needed to have distinct identities while acknowledging the syncopated character of historic Washington Street. Handel Architects’ work began with the two-building Ritz-Carlton, which contained a hotel, retail, a fitness club, a community daycare center, movie theaters, boutique office space, and parking, coupled with apartments. This 1.8 million sq. ft. mixed-use complex resolved its diverse program into a unique formal entity articulated at various scales. Specific tactical design “operations” organize the various podium elements and establish clear thresholds at the four street intersections. Metal canopies mark primary entries on all sides. The granite and glass towers organize the upper hotel podium while creating a meaningful civic scale gateway from Boston Common to Washington Street. The buildings opened in 2001.

Syncopated Street Wall
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Millennium Place 2

Next door, an irregular, 425,000 sf mixed-use perimeter block building of roman brick completed the ensemble.

A repeating motif of lattice metal and glass bay windows, echoing adjacent early 20th C. loft buildings, organizes the apartments. The Avery St. axis is terminated by a tower-like expression, which sponsors a series of faceted planes along the street curve.

Downtown Crossing

By the mid 2000’s, incremental investment and re-vitalization on the southern portion of the district began to achieve a self-sustaining vitality in the neighborhood. But the national consolidation of department stores coupled with competition with Big Box operations and a steady increase in internet shopping, led to the collapse of the Filene’s brand in 2006. As part of a large mixed-use project by another firm, Daniel Burnham's 1912 Filene’s Building in Downtown Crossing is gutted, and excavation is begun on an adjacent site. In 2008, the Great Recession intervenes; not unlike the recession of 1991-92 which stalled Boston Crossing and Commonwealth Center, the Great Recession halted this work in its tracks. The resultant “Big Hole” became a stark reminder of all that had been lost in this important district of the city.

Handel Architects' Washington Street Corridor Plan was expanded to address this portion of the district. The program for the adjacent site was re-calibrated, emphasizing a substantial increase in residential density. The overall size of the project was reduced, and the emphasis on parking was reduced. The Burnham Building floor plates, with minor adjustments, prove to be a optimal size for commercial tenants.

The new massing strategy recognized the Burnham Building as an urban “set piece”, unique in form, capable of defining the immediate surroundings through scale, materiality, and articulation. The new Millennium Tower on the adjacent site is thus “joined at the hip”, connecting the first three floors of the Burnham Building with retail uses, but clearly perceived as independent along the street wall and on the civic scale. The narrow proportions of the Tower are driven by the residential program. The renovated Filene's building opened in 2014; Millennium Tower opened in 2016.

Millennium Tower Boston 15
Millennium Tower Boston 16

Taken together, the approach re-establishes the street continuity with a lively combination of materials and massing, reinterpreting the variegated neighborhood character.

These collective projects have stimulated a profound increase in pedestrian activity, new academic and renovated cultural faculties, and lasting urban re-investment. Handel Architects' effort was honored in 2014 with an AIANY Honor Award.

Take an in-depth look at Handel Architects' 20-year efforts to improve Boston's Midtown Cultural District.

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2014 Honor Award for Urban Design - AIA New York


Planning Design Architect Architect of Record


Millennium Partners