Page N1.1 . 19 February 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - News Department
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25-Year Award to Design Research Headquarters

by ArchitectureWeek

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and architect Robert Campbell, FAIA, described it as "a glass vitrine at the scale of architecture, a display case for the contents inside? The glass facets of the facade give it the character of a cut jewel." The Design Research Headquarters building in Cambridge, Massachusetts is the newest recipient of the prestigious 25-Year Award by the American Institute of Architects.

The award "for architecture of enduring significance" was given to the influential building by Benjamin Thompson & Associates (now BTA). Both an instant success and an enduring favorite, the Design Research Headquarters Building stands on a prominent corner of Brattle Street by Brattle Square, adjacent to Harvard Square, where it has been offering passers-by a vision of modernism since 1969.

The late Benjamin Thompson designed the structure to house a commercial venture he founded to display and sell well-designed fittings and furnishings. He conceived the 24,000-square-foot (2,200-square-meter) building as a "three-dimensional show window." The building's exterior combines the play of offset bays and inset diagonal glass-to-glass corners. The frameless clear-glass walls seem to disappear, emphasizing the horizontal lines of sandblasted concrete floors.

Communicating stairs through open wells once allowed customer circulation to flow through the lower three floors, creating a unified, multilevel interior, while neutral finishes enhanced the lines and colors of the wares. BTA closed its Design Research venture in the mid-1970s, but another company still showcases contemporary furnishings. The only changes to the retail areas are the addition of wood-strip ceilings, new interior wall surfaces and lighting, and stair treads and rails that have been brought up to code. The upper two floors, now offices, use Venetian blinds to temper the transparency.

Henry S. Reeder, FAIA, who nominated the building for the award, writes: "This building stands as a tribute to the period in which it was created. Frameless tempered glass sealed in a stepping concrete floor slab produce a language of construction appropriate to the intention of the program. In a city block of brick buildings, it is a landmark glass and concrete structure that is an important reference point in the history of architecture."

The building also received regional and national design awards when it was first built and has earned a listing as a contributor to the Harvard Square Historic District. It will be honored at the American Architectural Foundation "Accent on Architecture" gala March 8,2003 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

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ArchWeek Image

The Design Research Headquarters building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Benjamin Thompson & Associates, has won the AIA 25-Year Award.
Photo: Ezra Stoller ESTO Photographics

ArchWeek Image

When the lower three floors were open to the public, open stairs gave access to the multilevel interior.
Photo: Ezra Stoller ESTO Photographics

ArchWeek Image

Inset frameless glass-to-glass corners seem to disappear, emphasizing the horizontal lines of sandblasted concrete floors.
Photo: Ezra Stoller ESTO Photographics


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