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Architects’ designs look to Dudley Square’s future

Architects’ designs look to Dudley Square’s future
(Photo: Micah Nemiroff)
Kairos Shen, chief planner for the Boston Redevelopment Authority (center), talks with attendees at one of the recent Hibernian Hall events showcasing designs for a revitalized Dudley Square. Shen called the contest “unlike any typical architectural competition,” because the designers were “actually having conversations with the community about their ideas before they finalized [them].” (Micah Nemiroff photo)

A host of Roxbury community members served as competition judges, including area residents and representatives from community groups.

The competition was held as a prelude to the American Institute of Architects National Convention, beginning today and running through Saturday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston. Competitors ranged from young Boston planners to teams from prestigious local architectural firms.

As architectural competitions go, said BRA Chief Planner Kairos Shen, this one was unprecedented. Shen announced the winners along with Mayor Thomas M. Menino at Hibernian Hall last Saturday.

“This was unlike any typical architectural competition,” he said. “Designers are actually having conversations with the community about their ideas before they finalize [them].”

Those conversations are key, Shen added, because they enabled the community to see what is possible in the square and allowed the architects to work on the basics.

“We had to gauge where the community’s preferences are,” he said. “If we can imagine what things will look like, we can then begin to focus on the more mundane issues in an open way.”

Placing a premium on big ideas, the competition encouraged local architects not to restrict their imaginations. Rather than limiting the scope solely to the existing buildings, Shen said, they were free to re-envision the entire square.

The community had direct input from the start. The application process involved site visits where community members and architects walked around the proposed development area, discussing whether proposed features would or would not work.

The architects said they took the ideas generated from those visits to heart.

“From the beginning of our work, we were thinking of what was appropriate in scale and what would work with what is already here,” said Susann Schlaud, a spokeswoman for Miller Dyer Spears, one of the competing firms.

Stephen Moore, one of the planners who won the Innovative Green Design prize, said he felt the goal of the competition was not to completely change Dudley Square, but rather to better serve the community that is already there.

“We really tried to look at how the neighborhood can provide its own mixed income,” said Moore. “We felt it was important to come in and not gentrify the neighborhood.”

While some of the architects’ concepts may be visionary, original and bold, BRA planner Hugues Monestime said there is little likelihood these specific architectural plans will get developed as originally designed. He noted that the competition’s intent was not to discuss development that is feasible, but to spur community members and builders alike to imagine what can be done to the neighborhood.

“This is the fun part,” said Monestime, the senior planner overseeing the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan, a neighborhood planning agenda developed in 2004 by the BRA and Roxbury residents looking to maintain input in — and exercise influence on — any decisions made on development in their community. “This is to bring excitement and attention to Dudley Square.”

After announcing the winners, Menino stressed the importance of the redevelopment of Dudley Square.

“The development of the Ferdinand building, the Guscott building, the library and the B-2 station is at the core of the economic revitalization of this area of the city,” the mayor said, adding: “Soon, you will see things move forward, designs being created and construction being done.”

The submissions will be displayed at the American Institute of Architects Convention, starting today and running through May 17.  For more information, visit

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