Emerson College is a leader in communications and performing arts education. Its urban campus in Boston has grown by adapting existing traditional architecture to create state-of-the-art learning/performance spaces. A cornerstone of that campus, the Little Building provides crucial student life facilities in a notable historic structure overlooking Boston Common.
History Constructed in 1917, the 12-story mixed-use building supported nine floors of office space, a two-story shopping arcade, and restaurants. Emerson bought and renovated the Little Building to add on-campus housing in 1994. But after a century of wear and tear, it required significant repairs – presenting an opportunity to reimagine the historic building.
Challenges • Expand uses and capacity to serve Emerson’s student community. • Honor its architectural and historic character as part of the cityscape. • Enhance its structural integrity and safety.
Results Through a hybrid preservation/design process, architects created new living spaces while preserving the integrity of the “four finger building” and its ornate façade. Partially infilling lightwells added two-story common rooms. A new floor tucked behind the parapet helped expand residential capacity from 750 to 1,035 beds. Novel scanning and modeling of each façade element facilitated the manufacture of detailed ultra-high-performance concrete replacements. Discrete structural interventions stabilized the building to meet current seismic codes. Sustainability features include new MEP systems, rainwater harvesting, an efficient new envelope, and the preservation of as much of the original structure as possible. The imaginative restoration advances a sense of campus identity, adding much-needed student life facilities while preserving the architectural fabric of the city.