Taking a fresh look at the Otis House complex

Feb 2, 2022

Following a rigorous review process, Historic New England selected award-winning NADAAA to explore options for the next chapter in the history of the Otis House.

Brick Federal-style Otis House and two connected row house. Taken from across the street. 20th century building in the background.

Historic New England is launching a comprehensive exploration of this Charles Bulfinch-designed National Historic Landmark with the goal of reimagining the site for enhanced visitor experience and use as well as serving as a gateway to all that Historic New England has to offer.

“Following the development and adoption of a new strategic plan at Historic New England, we’ve launched a reimagining of the Otis House complex to better advance our mission in the twenty-first century. We’re excited about NADAAA’s understanding of the context and potential of Otis House, how it could become an exciting, fully civic gateway visitor experience for Historic New England, and play a meaningful role in the vitality of the neighborhood,” said Historic New England President and CEO Vin Cipolla.

NADAAA, a Boston-based, internationally recognized architecture and urban design firm, is collaborating with Historic New England to develop an innovative vision for its downtown location which includes Otis House (built in 1796) on Cambridge Street and two row houses (built c. 1840) on Lynde Street. The location uniquely reflects a place that combines history, culture, community, and urban evolution.

NADAAA principal designer Nader Tehrani said, “Beyond its importance for Boston, Otis House represents something for New England more broadly as it embodies a piece of urban fabric in all its facets: its architecture, interiors, furniture, and artifacts all tell a story that extends the social importance of a dynamic community that is always in a state of transformation. The diversity that is embedded in the site is an important reminder of who we are today, how we interpret our history, and moreover, how we allow this special institution to tell new stories to future generations. We strongly believe that the combination of strategic planning, creative programming, and thoughtful transformations will bring a renewed sense of relevance to this historic jewel.”

For more than 225 years, the Otis House has been a place that reflected and witnessed the changes in its neighborhood. This grand urban mansion has been many things, including an alternative medicine facility and boarding house, before becoming a historic house museum. Its story has included adjacent shoe shine, barber, and laundry shops and being set back when Cambridge Street was widened in 1925. It is a rare survivor of a West End that was mostly demolished during the era of urban renewal.

Today, as the West End and Cambridge Street are once again impacted by new development, Historic New England will explore ways the site can be reimagined to create new and vibrant experiences for all our audiences.

Otis House works with public, private, and non-profit community partners to preserve the area’s history. The Beacon Hill Civic Association, House Museum Alliance of Downtown Boston, Boston Preservation Alliance, Boston Public Schools, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and Old West Church are just some of the many organizations that work with Historic New England to provide historical, cultural, and educational outreach to the public. With institutions such as the Museum of African American History, Vilna Shul, and the West End Museum and municipal services such as the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library as neighbors, there are many stakeholders in this endeavor. All are vital to building a more cohesive and inclusive community.

Redevelopment projects planned for Massachusetts General Hospital, the state-owned Charles F. Hurley Building, and the West End Branch Library put Otis House at the center of a substantial amount of development and construction activity. These projects present opportunities for advocacy and serve as catalysts for public conversations about the future role of the Otis House complex as well as the relationship between the West End’s built environment and community heritage and vitality.

About Historic New England
Historic New England, founded as Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1910, is the oldest and largest regional historic preservation organization in the country: with thirty-eight exceptional museums and landscapes, including several coastal farms, all open for public enjoyment; one of the world’s largest collections of New England artifacts, numbering more than 123,000 objects and more than 1.5 million archival documents including photographs, archival drawings, manuscripts, and ephemera; a major collections and archives center in Haverhill, Massachusetts; extensive education programs for youth, adults, and preservation professionals; award-winning exhibitions and publications; and one of the nation’s leading preservation easement programs protecting 118 historic properties throughout the region.

Principal designer Nader Tehrani is the recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letter’s 2020 Arnold W. Brunner Prize. Tehrani leads the studio with partner Arthur Chang, AIA (American Institute of Architects), who also leads the office’s fabrication workshop, NADLAB. NADAAA is a platform for design investigation at a large scale and with a great geographic reach. The firm’s projects range from furniture to architecture and urban design, with a focus on craft, construction, and digital fabrication. NADAAA has received the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award in Architecture, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Architecture Award, the Harleston Parker Award, the Hobson Award, numerous national, state, and local AIA awards, five American Architecture Awards, and eighteen Progressive Architecture awards. NADAAA’s work has been exhibited at a number of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, and LA MoCA. For the past seven years NADAAA has ranked in the top eleven design firms in Architect Magazine’s Top 50 Firms in the United States, ranking first for three years in a row.