Unlocking Boston: 14 Must-See Sites at This Year’s Common Boston Festival

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For the first time ever, Common Boston is adopting a new format for their highly popular festival of design and architecture in the city. Kicking off on June 4 and continuing through the weekend, Common Boston will “unlock” the doors to dozens of architecturally, culturally and historically significant sites in and around Boston.

Architecture and design enthusiasts rejoice as more than 50 historic sites will be opened to the public, including GrandTen Distilling, Old North Church and Hibernian Hall in Roxbury.  Need help deciding what to see? I’ve picked 14 of some of the best sites to see during the Common Boston Open House Festival. Plan your visit carefully since many of the buildings are only open either Saturday or Sunday, however, many are open on both days.

1. Lunder Arts Center, Lesley University

Lunder Arts Center Bruner Cott

Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University, Cambridge, MA. Photo Courtesy of Bruner/Cott & Associates. 2006 Invited Design Competition; building completed in 2015.

If you only have time to see one building, make it the Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University. Completed in 2015, by local architects Bruner/Cott & Associates, the building won the 2015 Preservation Award from the Cambridge Historical Commission for beautifully re-using the 1845 Greek Revival North Prospect Church and integrating it with the new terra cotta brick and glass building on the same site.

2. MassArt, Treehouse Residence Hall

MassArtStudentResHall ADD Inc

MassArt Tree House Student Residence, ADD Inc. Exterior Photography by Chuck Choi and Peter Vanderwarker, Courtesy of ADD Inc.

This residence hall at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design is destined to become winner of the Harleston Parker Medal for Most Beautiful Building in Boston. The “treehouse” as it is affectionately known, was completed in 2013 by local architects ADD, INC. and was inspired by Gustav Klimt’s Tree of Life. The treehouse is arguably the single-most interesting building in Boston since the new Boston City Hall.

3. Boston Public Library, Honan-Allston Branch

Honan Allston Library Machado Silvetti

Boston Public Library Honan-Allston Branch completed in 2001 by Machado Silvetti. Photo Courtesy of Machado Silvetti.

Completed in 2001 and designed by the firm of Machado Silvetti, this neighborhood branch of the Boston Public Library features slate shingles and blocks, woods, and natural-finished wood windows to create an inviting interior filled with light. Please note that the building is only open for visiting Saturday June 4, from 9:00am-5:00pm.

4. Boston Public Library, East Boston Branch

East Boston Public Library William Rawn Associates

Boston Public Library, East Boston Branch by William Rawn Associates. Completed in 2013. Photo by Robert Benson Photography, courtesy of William Rawn Associates.

Completed in 2013, the East Boston Branch of the Boston Public Library is designed in signature William Rawn-style—spacious, gloriously lit interiors, beautiful light wood and colorful accents that rejuvenate all the senses. The LEED Gold Certification is just the icing on the cake. Please note that the building is only open on Saturday June 4, from 9:00am-5:00pm.

5. Boston Public Library, Mattapan Branch

Mattapan Library William Rawn

Boston Public Library, Mattapan Branch by William Rawn Associates. Completed in 2009. Photo by Robert Benson Photography, Courtesy of William Rawn Associates.

Just one of seven library branches in my neighborhood of Dorchester, this is also another building designed by William Rawn Associates. Completed in 2009, the building is one of my favorites of the firm’s libraries because it seamlessly blends the interior and exterior, inviting users to take advantage of the courtyard on nice days or admire from the comfort of your seat, the evergreen plants on bitter cold winter days. Please note that the building is open on Saturday June 4 from 9:00am-5:00pm.

6. Cambridge City Hall

Cambridge City Hall HABS

Cambridge City Hall, Cambridge, MA. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division – Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey

Often mistakenly attributed to the great architect Henry Hobson Richardson, Cambridge City Hall was designed by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow in the “Richardsonian Romanesque” style, a style named after Richardson himself. Please note that Cambridge City Hall is only open on Saturday June 4 from 10:00am to 3:00pm.

7. Church of the Covenant

Church of the Covenant

Church of the Covenant (1865-1867), Boston, MA designed by Richard M. Upjohn. Photo Courtesy of The Church of the Covenant.

Designed by the noted architect Richard M. Upjohn (the son of Richard Upjohn), the Church of the Covenant (1865-67) also features a sumptuous interior by the Tiffany Company. If you visit, you’ll see 42 stained glass windows by the Tiffany Company and the original chandelier from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012. Please note that the church is open Saturday from  11:00am to 3:00pm and Sunday from 12:30pm to 4:30pm.

8. Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

Fairstead HABS

Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, MA. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division – Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey

Located in Brookline (not far from his friend and frequent collaborator, Henry Hobson Richardson’s house), the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site is a must-see for anyone interested in the roots of American landscape design. The house and landscape were recently restored to a 1930 appearance. Please note that the site is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9:30am to 4:00pm and guided tours will be offered at 10:00am, 11:00am and 1:00pm, 2:00pm, 3:00pm both on Saturday and Sunday.

9. Metropolitan Waterworks Museum

Metro Waterworks Museum

Metropolitan Waterworks Museum, Chesnut Hill, MA. Photo by Flickr user used under the Creative Commons License.

#GetPumped at the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum during the Common Boston Open House Festival. A building designed by Arthur Vinal in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, this pumping station was built in 1886-87 in response to the city’s increasing demands for clean water. Learn about the landscape, architecture and walk away with a deeper appreciation for the engineering marvels of 19th century Boston. Please note that the museum is open on both Saturday and Sunday from 11:00am to 4:00pm.

10. James Blake House, Dorchester Historical Society

James Blake House HABS

James Blake House, Dorchester Historical Society, Dorchester, MA. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division – Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey

The oldest house in Boston. Enough said. Do not miss this house built in 1661, one of “a relatively small number of its type – the post-Medieval, timber-frame house – surviving anywhere in New England.” Open Saturday only. For more information, please click here.

11. Ayer Mansion

Ayer Mansion

Ayer Mansion, Boston, MA. Designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany. Photo courtesy of McGinley Kalsow & Associates Inc.

Located in swanky Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, the Ayer Mansion is a rare surviving example of the residential work of designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. The house is one of three surviving houses with interiors designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and features stunning interior and exterior mosaics as well as stained glass windows. Please note that on Saturday, June 4, 2016, visitors are free to view just the first floor without a tour from 2:30 to 5:30 PM.  Guided tours are offered at 2:30 PM & 4:30 PM.

12. Boston Public Library, Central Library

Boston Public Library by McKim, Mead and White

The Boston Public Library by McKim, Mead and White. Photo by the author.

McKim, Mead and White’s Palace for the People. While you’re free to self-guide anytime on Saturday and Sunday, I highly recommend one of the library’s guided tours. Tours are held on Saturdays at 11:00 a.m.
and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Bring your lunch and enjoy the courtyard.

13. The Vilna Shul, Boston’s Center for Jewish Culture, Inc

Vilna Shul

Photo by the author.

I had the opportunity to tour this inspiring building in 2010 with some members of the New England Chapter, Society of Architectural Historians. Built by the only Jewish architect in the city, Max Kalman, the Vilna Shul is a building worth seeing. Admire the decorative murals and learn about life in Beacon Hill before the re-development of the West End. Please note that the building is closed on Saturdays, so your chance to see the building is on Sunday June 5. There is a guided tour at 2:00pm and 4:00pm.

14. Otis House, Historic New England

Otis House HABS

Otis House, Historic New England, Boston, MA. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division – Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes SurveyFrederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, MA. Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division – Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey

Here’s your chance to see some of the most colorful Federalist interiors in Boston. The Harrison Gray Otis House was designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch for Harrison Gray Otis, a Massachusetts senator and third mayor of Boston. This 1796 house is considered to be one of the finest and grandest Federalist houses in the city. The house is owned by Historic New England and is open to the public for viewing with tours every half hour. Last tour at 4:30 p.m.

Which sites will you be visiting? Report back on your visit via Twitter, Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #CB16. 

5 responses to “Unlocking Boston: 14 Must-See Sites at This Year’s Common Boston Festival

  1. Pingback: Exploring the Landscapes and Structures of Boston with Common Boston | The Evolving Critic·

  2. Pingback: Exploring the Landscapes and Structures of Boston with Common Boston | The Evolving Critic·

  3. Pingback: Exploring the Landscapes and Structures of Boston with Common Boston | The Evolving Critic·

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