It is not often that an institution is able to completely reinvent itself, but that is exactly what the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Boston has been able to do, and with it, set a new tone for the city's art and museum scene. In an impressive about face, due in large part to the efforts of museum director Jill Medvedow, ICA has garnered itself an architecturally-prized new home and its own permanent collection--the first time in the Museum's 70-year-history it has actually been able to amass artwork.

Chosen in 1999 to be the "cultural cornerstone" of the 20-plus acre site of Boston's Fan Pier waterfront development project, New York-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) were selected in 2001 as the building architects. Known for their museum installations and multi-media projects, ICA is DS+R's first built commission, and the first new museum to be built in Boston in more than 100 years.

The building is an object and a destination point, and takes full advantage of the waterfront location. Its "front" facade overlooks the harbor--a point worth stating because this is not the elevation that greets visitors. Nevertheless, if one remembers that the museum is only the first part of the Fan Pier development yet to be realized, the parking lot arrival can be overlooked given the jewel-like features that await inside.

The project's main architectural gesture is a metal and wood "ribbon" that folds back on itself, organizing the sectional separation between the upper level galleries, the glass-enclosed theater, the ground floor lobby, museum shop, and cafe, and the museum's waterfront seating area and promenade. The extensive use, and thoughtful placement of translucent and transparent glass, blurs the edge between interior and exterior, as visitors are provided different environments in which to engage the art, the building, the view, and the city.

Overseen by New York-based Arup Lighting, the building's lighting scheme takes a systematic approach in order to address the diversity of spaces. "We focused on using a common set of economical tools," explains lighting designer Brian Stacy. "Yet, it still allowed us a highly-integrated lighting design." That integration is most acutely seen in the windowless main galleries, which receive light through an adjustable skylight system, concealed by a grid of scrim-wrapped ceiling panels. Tracklights with PAR38 lamps are integrated into the ceiling grid's structural seams and provide ambient lighting. The result is a serene and luminous space with balanced light. At night, the exterior of this gallery "box," which cantilevers 80 feet to the water's edge, glows from within.

The building's two other primary spaces--the theater and Mediatheque--offer a contrasting engagement with the site and with lighting. Whereas the Mediatheque, as its name implies, offers a contemplative space in which to think about art, while providing a momentary refuge, the theater, with its two glass walls is an active space, which invites visitors to physically engage with the building, the water, and the city via the breathtaking views. An integrated shading system within the curtain wall allows the auditorium to go from full blackout to completely translucent, allowing for a variety of functions and performance types.

ICA offers a dynamic museum-going experience, the likes of which Boston has not seen, and one that rivals other prominent collections in the United States. A destination worth traveling to, the new ICA encourages visitors to reimagine the museum's potential as a thought-provoking cultural experience.


Project Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston
Design Architect Diller Scofidio + Renfro, New York
Architect of Record Perry Dean Rodgers | Partners Architects, Boston
Lighting Designer Arup Lighting, New York
Structural, M/E/P Engineers and Controls Arup, New York
Theater Consultant Fisher Dachs Associates, New York
Project Size 65,000 square feet
Total Building Cost $35 million (including site)
Lighting Cost $1,640,000
Photographer Iwan Baan, Amsterdam

Manufacturers and Applications
Bega: Exterior lumninaires at doors
Belfer: Dressing room lighting
Columbia: Fluorescent strips throughout
Elliptipar: Facade (rainscreen) backlights
Erco: Uplights in lobby
Kurt Versen: Square downlights in theater
Light Controls and Design: Facility-wide lighting controls
Litelab: Gallery and lobby luminaries
Louis Poulsen: Theater and exterior lighting
Lutron: Room-based lighting controls
Selux: Lobby, exterior canopy, and elevator lobby lighting
Sistemalux: Lobby lighting
Sterner: Cantilever uplights