Page E3.2 . 18 January 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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    Urban Arts


    Arrowstreet design principal James Batchelor calls the building "an urban safe house for the arts in a changing landscape." His firm organized a series of workshops in which AFH students and staff and the architects collaborated during programming and schematic design phases. Current and past students also had a direct hand in the design and installation of railings, bathrooms, and interior partition systems.

    Into the Center

    The 23,500-square-foot (9500-square-meter) building contains fine-art and commercial studios, galleries, and offices. The tight site presented some challenges in establishing an urban presence for the building. Arrowstreet's approach was to clad the building in no-nonsense, "tough" materials such as corrugated sheet metal and industrial curtain-wall windows, but to do it in ways that gives the EpiCenter a flare.

    For instance, the building's zero-lot-line walls couldn't contain windows, so here the stainless steel siding slides down across the facade at an angle, making you look at least twice. These elevations also have hardware in place so that murals and other artwork can be displayed on the large blank walls. The curtain wall is extra deep in profile to give it a more three-dimensional appearance.

    In section, the building had to negotiate a change in grade of nine feet (2.7 meters) from the front to the back. The solution was to create a protected sunken garden in front of the building (on its south side) and to bridge over the garden with a walkway that delivers people from the street to the front entry.

    Through the front doors, you look over the main gallery space, which is likewise sunken (on the same level as the outdoor garden). You can just imagine an exhibit reception here: work on display with spectators milling around, and you can see it all as soon as you pass through the front doors. It is a perfect space for the community to be on display, along with the art.

    At the gallery level, the south wall has a 24- by 18-foot- (7.3- by 5.5-meter-) wide, glazed, roll-up garage door that allows the gallery space to reach unhindered out to the garden. The gallery's bright, airy volume has a mezzanine level on its east side with access to support spaces, stairways, and elevators. The two levels above this are fully fitted out with studios for a variety of arts painting, sculpture, silkscreen, graphics and exhibit walls at the building's periphery.

    The EpiCenter's organization and layout has a wonderful Yankee frugality to it, yet not to the detriment of an open, inviting, hard-working interior. Structural components, industrial lighting, floor slabs, roof decking, pipes, conduit, and other unadorned elements are all exposed. Glazed walls on the north and south sides fill the spaces with natural light.

    The roof is pitched, making the north windows tall and generous, as you'd want them to be in a studio, while the south windows are squeezed a bit to control light. Located along the south wall are offices, where direct sun is more desirable. Shades allow the southern light to be dampened as necessary.

    Built for Sustainability

    The building is chock-full of green features. Windows are highly insulated, as are the walls, to boost thermal performance. The energy-efficient lighting system's automated controls dim the fixtures when spaces are illuminated with daylight.

    The metal cladding outside helps to reflect heat gain, to keep the building cooler. The use of clear acrylic partitions between studio spaces on the upper floors allows daylight from the north and south facades to fully penetrate the building's interior spaces.   >>>

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    ArchWeek Image

    "EpiCenter," designed by Arrowstreet Architects, is the new home for Artists for Humanity in South Boston.
    Photo: Richard Mandelkorn

    ArchWeek Image

    "EpiCenter," north and west elevations.
    Photo: Richard Mandelkorn

    ArchWeek Image

    The roof is entirely covered with photovoltaic cells for electricity generation.
    Photo: Richard Mandelkorn

    ArchWeek Image

    South facade details.
    Photo: Richard Mandelkorn

    ArchWeek Image

    Section looking east.
    Image: Arrowstreet Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Level one floor plan.
    Image: Arrowstreet Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    Level three floor plan.
    Image: Arrowstreet Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    The below-grade lobby opens wide to a garden courtyard.
    Photo: Richard Mandelkorn


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