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Design update on Ferdinand project mixes old and new

Sandra Larson | 2/7/2012, 7:21 p.m.
A preliminary design for the Ferdinand Municipal Building retains the historic Ferdinand building exterior while adding a larger, more modern brick and glass structure. The building will house the Boston Public Schools offices, with retail and community space on the first two floors. Sandra Larson

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A preliminary design for the Ferdinand Municipal Building retains the historic Ferdinand building exterior while adding a larger, more modern brick and glass structure. The building will house the Boston Public Schools offices, with retail and community space on the first two floors.

The Dudley Vision Advisory Task Force last week got a glimpse of design ideas for the Dudley Square Municipal Office Building. The 180,000-square-foot future Boston Public Schools headquarters is set to rise up from the old Ferdinand’s furniture store site over the next two years.

Nick Brooks of Sasaki Associates, the Watertown firm leading the design work, presented a 3-D model and preliminary drawings at a Jan. 31 task force meeting open to the public. Also on hand were Victor Vizgaitis of Sasaki and Marta Roy of Mecanoo Architects, the Dutch firm partnering with Sasaki on the project.

 Brooks said the goal is to preserve and honor Dudley Square history while creating something new and modern in its midst.

For instance, a proposed central corridor connecting the building’s entrances follows the path of the old elevated Orange Line, where the tracks took a sharp curve to skirt Ferdinand’s furniture store. The designers envision curving tubular lighting along the ceiling of the corridor as a subtle memorial to the old tracks.

“We are paying respect to what once was here,” said Brooks.

The Ferdinand building’s facade will remain part of the new building’s shell. A glassed-in public lobby area could include an old Ferdinand wall. Preliminary designs show the brick wall’s painted advertisements faintly visible inside a modern, spacious, light-filled lobby.

An exterior view shows the ornate five-story Ferdinand facade. A gleaming new brick and glass structure rises two stories taller behind it and fills the triangular block. On the tallest roof, the letters “D-U-D-L-E-Y” perch, reminiscent of the famous “Hollywood” sign.

The final look of this rooftop sign could change, but architect Roy described in glowing terms how it honors Dudley Square’s prominent location.

“The Dudley sign is a way to tell all of Boston that Dudley is here, Dudley has arrived,” she said. “It’s the geographical center of Boston. We want to address all directions.”

This was the first design presentation since the Nov. 29 announcement that the city would acquire the adjacent Curtis and Waterman buildings in order to expand the municipal building site to the entire block.

In another nod to history, the front facades of those two buildings will be retained, making the massive new facility almost appear to still be separate buildings. The Waterman building’s now blank wall facing Dudley Station will contain the windows of retail businesses and upper floor offices.

The juxtaposition of old and new architecture, and pale and darker colors raised some eyebrows, but Maureen Anderson of the city’s Project and Construction Management department said the deliberate mix of styles helps the new building mesh with existing Dudley Square.

The ground floor will hold retail businesses. Current plans show about 20,000 square feet in total. The commercial space may be divided into varied chunks from 1,000 to roughly 9,000 square feet, allowing uses from small and medium-sized shops to a sit-down restaurant.

The retail spaces are expected to be ready when the building opens in late 2014. After the meeting, Anderson said advertising for the spaces would likely start in 2013, giving ample time for interested people to secure space and plan for businesses there.