With a wave of redevelopment rolling toward Boston’s old industrial waterfront, Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s much lauded new home for the city’s Institute of Contemporary Art (RECORD, March 2007, page 108) has established a beachhead for ambitious modern design.

Image courtesy Hill Glazier (top); Image courtesy Elkus/Manfredi (bottom)
Hill Glazier (top): Adjacent to the Institute of Contemporary Art on Boston’s Fan Pier, Hill Glazier Architects have designed a luxury hotel containing more than 100 condominium units. Elkus Manfredi (bottom): Elkus/Manfredi designed an 18-story office building at a site nearby.

The ICA late last year moved from the Back Bay to its new home at a long-vacant site on Fan Pier, in a gritty area southeast of downtown. Plans approved for the surrounding nine-block, 21-acre waterfront district include several office towers, a luxury hotel, condominium buildings, and retail shops. New public parks and a marina are also in the works. Of these projects, 1.3 million square feet of space could be underway by the end of 2007. All told, the master plan allows for up to 3 million square feet of development.

While the popularity of the ICA might suggest Boston sought a Bilbao Effect—an urban revival driven by the construction of an iconic cultural building—there was no conscious plan to seed the area by building the museum first. According to Kairos Shen, Boston’s director of planning, “The plans for the entire waterfront, including the Fan Pier, predated the ICA. The civic spaces and museum evolved out of a larger planning effort. The ICA was completed quicker partly because it was not constrained by same set of economic and market conditions that affect private developers.”

The property had been tangled in legal disputes for decades, straining the patience of public officials eager to see the prime location developed. In 2005, the Pritzker family of Chicago sold the land to local developer Joseph Fallon and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, who refined a scheme negotiated by the Pritzker group and quickly moved forward with it.

Construction on a hotel and residential building, designed by Hill Glazier Architects, is set to begin later this year on a site behind the ICA. This will be followed by a condominium building by Hill Glazier and office towers by Brennan Beer Gorman Architects and Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects.

Like the ICA, the new Fan Pier projects eschew Boston’s various revival styles—such as the ubiquitous redbrick Federalist mode—in favor of angular expanses of glass. “It was an easy call. Glass maximizes the views,” Fallon explains.

Although the ICA is less a catalyst for these new developments than simply an accompanying project, it is nevertheless having an effect on the area. Its contemporary design, Shen says, has “stimulated a conversation about architecture and raises the bar for private development as well.”