A New Building Meant To Spark Innovation

U.S. Cities are establishing “Innovation Districts” to foster entrepreneurship.

They should take note of Boston’s new District Hall. 

Silicon Valley may be the capital of the tech scene, but the geographical spread of the country’s innovation has expanded far beyond its borders. Cities all over the country, from Brooklyn to Charleston to Las Vegas, are making a concerted effort to take advantage of the creative bustle of the urban environment, creating dedicated innovation districts. In the words of the Brookings Institution’s Bruce Katz, these districts cluster “leading-edge anchor institutions and cutting-edge innovative firms, connecting them with supporting and spin-off companies, business incubators, mixed-use housing, office, retail, and 21st century urban amenities.”

In Boston, a fledging District Hall, a city-sponsored center with workspaces, classrooms, community rooms, and a restaurant. The center comes out of a public-private partnership between the city of Boston and Boston Global Investors. Opened in October, the sleek, modern building by Boston-based Hacin + Associates offers a gorgeous civic space centered around collaboration.

As Katz has argued, the innovation district model profoundly impacts the physical design of our offices and research labs:

Innovation Districts embrace the redesign of buildings and office spaces in support of collaboration and open innovation, and they provide the physical and social platform for entrepreneurial growth—incubator space, collaborative venues, social networking, product competitions, technical support, and mentoring.

District Hall’s design is firmly in this collaborative, open camp. As the flagship component of Boston’s emerging 1,000-acre innovation district, the center stands out visually, beckoning the public in and offering a peek of what’s inside. Hacin’s angular design was inspired by the former industrial nature of the neighborhood, which used to be a waterfront rail yard. The cantilevered roof gestures toward the harbor, and large glass panels and bright LED lights make it a beacon at night, a transparent advertisement for the bustling activity within.

The 12,000-square-foot facility also had to be flexible and dynamic enough to house a variety of different functions—networking events, casual gatherings, demonstrations of new technology, coworking. Inside, there are writable wall surfaces and roll-down partitions that allow the large assembly space to be subdivided into smaller spaces as necessary. The main gathering space is accessible from all the major surrounding streets, and the entrances are visually connected by colored lighting, “reinforcing the role of the building as a public place and path,” according to the architects.

If there was ever any doubt, Hacin’s design proves that, yes, innovation can be a beautiful thing. Burgeoning innovation districts, take note.

* Abridged from an article by Shaunacy Ferro, a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences, fastcodesign.com

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