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Research aids revitalization of H.H. Richardson building

March 24, 2014

Hayden BuildingIn the neighborhood once known as Boston’s Combat Zone, a formerly neglected, Henry Hobson Richardson-designed treasure has taken on new life. Preservation nonprofit Historic Boston, Inc., purchased the fire-damaged Hayden Building (1875) on Washington Street in 1993, then embarked on a restoration project to highlight the building’s extraordinary design and the history of the neighborhood. They hired CUBE design + research, an architecture firm with offices in Boston and North Carolina. Partners Jason Hart and Chris Johns used extensive resources—including Historic New England’s Library and Archives, along with the Boston Public Library, Boston Athenaeum, Boston Globe, and others—to understand the building’s historical context and integrate it into the project.

Although the building had always been used for commercial purposes, Historic Boston envisioned residential use. Hart and Johns found creative ways to incorporate the history of both the building and the neighborhood into the living spaces, thickening the walls to pay homage to Richardson’s hierarchical emphasis on the windows, and adding functional spaces that support daily activities. Transitions between spaces reflect Richardson’s approach to sequencing thresholds, such as a smaller space before the entry to a grand living room. “The interiors of the units are most influenced by Richardson himself,” says Johns, “but rendered in a contemporary way.”

The building’s common spaces reveal the fruits of the team’s research-based approach. The residential lobby features murals inspired by the building’s nineteenth-century commercial tenants, such as tailoring shops. Landings in the Hayden Building staircase feature infographics that tell the story of the neighborhood’s colorful history, illustrated with a timeline and historic photos.

“We analyzed the history of the building, neighborhood, architect, occupants, and events that happened in the building or nearby to tell the total story of the artifact,” says Hart.

Residents began moving into the revitalized (and now fully leased) Hayden Building early last year. The Boston Preservation Alliance recently awarded the project a 2013 Preservation Achievement Award. The Hayden Building is a highly visible example of how preserving and sharing historic photographs and documents help influence contemporary design.

Historic New England’s Library and Archives are open by appointment. Call 617-994-5946 to schedule a visit.

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Research aids revitalization of H.H. Richardson building