Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art – A Striking New Building with Water Views

By Ron Bernthal

New art museums have been opening all over the country, and some of the world’s most well known architects have created beautiful buildings in Kansas City, Denver, and Seattle. But perhaps the most striking of these new structures opened recently on the Boston waterfront.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects Photo: Iwan Baan.

The Institute of Contemporary Art, a Boston landmark for 70 years, has moved to a larger, light-filled building overlooking Boston’s harbor, and the Diller, Scofidio & Renfro- designed museum has been the talk of the city.

“I would say that we weren’t thinking too much of materials and actual design when we approached the architects about building our new Institute on this site,” said the Institute’s Director Jill Medvedow. “We wanted to have an open and transparent facility, with progressive architecture, a building that would be looking forward, and would blend into its waterside environment. We’re really quite pleased with how it all turned out”

The art galleries, located on the uppermost level, cantilever over the harbor, offering great views of the water, and letting in the reflected light off the water. A325-seat performing arts theatre features walls glazed in clear glass, and a digital media center juts out from underneath the third floor, and seems to hang over the water in mid-air.

West Gallery, installation view of Super Vision The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects Photo: Peter Vanderwarker.

“Our concern was how to you balance this incredible harbor view with a museum, how to create a building that doesn’t give in to being just a tourist attraction, yet needs to draw in all sorts of visitors,” said Richard Scofidio, one of the principal architects. “We wanted to represent the familiar within a new experience, to allow visitors to see things in a new way. One of the best moments of visiting the building is walking into the Mediatheque (the digital media center) and looking out that window and seeing water like you’ve never it before. That was very important to us.”

The Mediatheque slants downward, providing a unique, bird's eye view of the water. Computers offer educational videos and photos of artists and their work. (Photo: Ron Bernthal)

The Institute of Contemporary Art is the cultural cornerstone of Boston’s Seaport District, a maritime industrial area that is undergoing a major renaissance, with new hotels, restaurants, and corporate meeting venues. A major attraction in the area will be the Boston Harborwalk, a continuous 47- mile public walkway through the city’s waterfront neighborhoods.

Currently under construction, the architects of the new museum considered it a major influence in their design plans. “Much of our design strategy was built around the harbor walk, and how it is going to flow around the museum and along the water. It really helped us to organize all the major spaces of the building,” said Elizabert Diller, another principal architect of the firm.

After heading to the top gallery in a glass elevator with outside views of the harbor, visitors can view the museum’s first temporary exhibition, entitled “Super Vision,” as well as items from its permanent collection. Some of the most influential artists working today, including Anish Kapoor, Jeff Koons, Andreas Gursky, and Jeff Wall are part of the temporary exhibition’s dazzling array of photographs, paintings, sculpture, and technological displays.

Founders' Gallery The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston Diller Scofidio + Renfro Architects Photo: Peter Vanderwarker.

Visitors can break for lunch at the Water Café by Wolfgang Puck, or sit at a flat screen computer in the Media Center, where educational videos and slides about contemporary art are just a mouse click away.

“For better or worse, I think the hardest work lies before us. We’ve built the building to expand our artist programming, and to have more educational and group programs, ” said Ms. Medvedow. “We have utterly transformed the institution, and will be working with a larger staff, a larger budget, and we will do whatever is necessary to make this location work for us in the best ways possible.”

Jeff Koons Olive Oyl, 2003 Courtesy of the artist and the Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens © Jeff Koons

Visiting the Institute of Contemporary Art:
The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston
100 Northern Avenue
Boston, MA 02210
General Information: 617-478-3100
Visitor Information: 617-478-3101

Museum, Store & Café Hours
Tuesday and Wednesday 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday and Friday 10 am – 9 pm
Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 5 pm
Closed Monday, except on the following national holidays: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans’ Day.

$12 general admission
$10 students and seniors
FREE members and children 17 and under
FREE after 5 pm on Target Free Thursday Nights
FREE families (adults accompanied by children 12 and under) on the last Saturday of each month


© Ron Bernthal – No editorial content, portions of articles, or photographs from this site may be used in any print, broadcast, or Web-based format without written permission from the author or Web site developer.

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