Modern Boston Architecture: The ICA

Modern Boston Architecture: The ICA

We first wrote about modern architecture in New England back in our first AT post and we'd like to make it a regular thing. In a town where the standard visual is red brick townhouses and bay windows, we'd like to highlight some of the buildings and homes in the area that inspire us with more contemporary taste, like Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)...


Located in Boston's Fan Pier, the ICA opened in December 2006 and was the the first new art museum built in Boston in almost 100 years. The museum sits on the edge of the water with an 80 foot cantilever extending over the 47-mile harbor walk which runs along the entire length of Boston Harbor. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, (their first major built work) this is Elizabeth Diller's explination of the design:

"The design of the ICA negotiates between two competing objectives: to perform as a dynamic civic building filled with public and social activities, and as a contemplative space providing individual visitors with intimate experiences with contemporary art. The "public" building is built from the ground up; the "intimate" building, from the sky down."

The public portion is defined by the wood decking of the harbor walk wrapping up to define exterior seating (where we've been known to take our lunch), extending into the building like a ribbon folding up and defining the stage before terminating on the bottom of the cantilever. The sky element of the building which makes up the gallery space is defined by a translucent channel glass box with a panoramic window looking over the harbor.

Our favorite space is the media gallery that hangs down from the cantilever creating a forced view of the water stripping all other elements away from the view, including the horizon, like a living mural. Diller describes these moments in this way: "The building is a visual tease, almost like porn. We wanted to distribute the view in small doses."

Opening to mixed architectural reviews, the ICA doesn't make the greatest first-impression with its main entrance facade looking into a sea of parking lots and chain link fences. To their credit there is meant to be a lot of development on the surrounding site but the ICA is the only project that went forward and it looks as if D S+R put all their effort in the harbor side facade. While the building is easy to criticize in details the impact of it on the Boston architecture and art scene has been immense and definitely makes it worth a visit.

These beautiful photographs were taken by the architectural photographer Iwan Baan before the building opened.


What better time to visit than during the upcoming exhibition of Tara Donavan's work, opening on October 10th.

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