With its upper level hovering dramatically over the water, the Institute of Contemporary Art offers its visitors, a rich and dynamic visual experience. The building deals with the challenging concept of offering both interactive public areas and intimate private spaces within a single unified entity.
As explained by Elizabeth Diller: “The design of the ICA negotiates between two competing objectives: to perform as a dynamic civic building filled with public and social activities, and as a contemplative space providing individual visitors with intimate experiences with contemporary art. The "public" building is built from the ground up; the "intimate" building, from the sky down ».
The cantilever over a public walkway toward the water is a result of functional requirements of the galleries. The ICA offered the city some of its ground floor footprint in exchange for rights to erecting the cantilever over city property. The resulting upper floor hosts an18,000 sq ft flexible and uninterrupted sky-lit gallery.
The ICA is the first museum to be built in Boston in 100 years. The 65,000 sq ft building includes temporary and permanent galleries, a 330 seat multi-purpose theater, a restaurant, bookstore, education/workshop facilities, and administrative offices. It straddles the competing objectives of a dynamic civic building for public programs and an intimate, contemplative environment for viewing art.
The project integrates quite nicely with its surroundings. Its site is bound on two sides by the Harbor Walk; a 47-mile public walkway at the water¹s edge reclaimed from Boston¹s industrial past. The Harbor Walk is used as a civic surface that extends up to form the public grandstand, flattens into the theater stage, and wraps the surfaces of the theater extending into a horizontal tray that holds the gallery and shelters the grandstand.
The waterfront is both a great asset for the museum and a distraction from its inwardly focused program. A choreographed passage through the building dispenses the visual context in small doses. Upon entry, the view is compressed under the belly of the theater, then scanned by the glass elevator, used as a variable backdrop in the theater, denied entirely in the galleries, and revealed as a panorama at the crossover gallery.
The digital media gallery suspended under the cantilever edits the context from view, leaving only the mesmerizing texture of water. It plays an important role of connecting the building from its interior space to its surroundings.
Project Details and Credits:
Client: Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston
Architects: Diller Scofidio + Renfro
Collaborating Architects: Perry Dean Rogers & Partners
Consultant Engineers: Arup Group LTD
Contractor: George B. H. Macomber Company
Total area: 62,000 square feet
Gallery area: 18,000 square feet
Performing Arts Theater: 5,300 square feet
Photographs courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Iwan Baan, and Nic Lehoux, as indicated.