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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

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The Harbor Plaza design by Diller Scorfidio Renfro Architects
The Harbor Plaza design by Diller Scorfidio Renfro Architects

Right next door to the spot John Harrington wanted to put a new Fenway Park, the Institute of Contemporary Art is building a new ICA museum. The ICA is pulling up stakes from the Boylston Street location, but they will keep the free Thursday nights. Actually there are a lot of things that the ICA is hoping to keep, including a permanent collection for the first time ever.

The new ICA building is scheduled to open September 17, 2006. The ICA gave a slide show and tour of the unfinished building. It might be a dynamic addition to the rapidly expanding South Boston waterfront. The ICA looks like a jewel in the rough right now. The unfinished building is surrounded by empty lots and fenced in parking lots.

The Boson Harborwalk is an ambitious project to build a walkway that will along the waterfront from Chelsea Creek to the Neponset River. Sections of the Harborwalk are already complete, including all of Columbia Point, the area of land on which UMass Boston is located. The Harborwalk passes through the new ICA building. The architect, Chris Renfro made it clear that creating a space that was welcoming to the public was a priority for his architecture firm, Diller Scorfidio Renfro. In a few years the whole area surrounding the new ICA building ought to look different, the tour guides have assured me. The empty lot to the south of the ICA will be a park. According to a tour guide, Anthony’s Pier 4, right next door to the new ICA, will be gone in the next few years.

The new ICA looks like a ceiling-mounted slide projector. The building’s outcrop is designed to be a public plaza, sheltered from the elements by the museum overhead. The most distinguishable element of the building is a drop-down room. Inside, the room is designed to be a media center, where visitors to the museum can watch movies or surf the net. The room descends towards a big window aimed straight down at the water. The architects stressed that, “You only see the water and the texture of the water,” but there was a very obvious buoy in the lower left of the vista that I couldn’t keep my eyes off of. I would bet that someone takes care of the buoy before the museum opens.

The architects wanted to create a building that interacted with the public without getting in the way of the exhibits. I think that they succeeded. The galleries are lit with diffused natural light. The new ICA exudes tranquility and flexibility. The Long Gallery is a hallway really, that will have benches for people to sit down and relax. The Long Gallery has a spectacular view of Boston. The Old North Church steeple peaks up out of the brick in the North End, across the harbor, the Bunker Hill monument is visible, and so is the Tobin Bridge, and Logan Airport. The windows in the Long Gallery will be covered with a film that limits the visibility to 60?, so that when you walk along the Long Gallery, the view of the Harbor will travel with you and change with each step.

My favorite part is the 325-seat theater, right below the Long Gallery. The actors perform in front of windows that look out on the harbor. The buildings outcrop creates a beautiful, obtuse angle when viewed from the theater seats. The backstage area is visible from the area outside of the elevators. The theater will be wood layered with Santa Maria wood, which is ecologically harvested. The ICA is in the process of developing programs with local schools to provide a place where teenagers can learn filmmaking and other arts.

The ICA is free on Thursday nights. Every other day it is $12 admission-$10. admission for students. The new ICA is located on Fan Pier. The building will open on September 17, 2006.