by Thomas Hains
Creating a school where the classrooms, arts instruction, and performances spaces reflect the talent of its students was one of the primary goals when envisioning the new Boston Arts Academy (BAA). Located next to Fenway Park, the new 154,000sf state-of-the-art school provides over 500 high school students from Boston’s diverse neighborhoods – 91% of them identify as people of color – with a comprehensive and unique learning experience and special focus on theatre, dance, music, visual arts, and fashion technology. As the designers behind this new beacon within the Fenway neighborhood, Wilson Butler Architects joined with architects Perkins Eastman as the architect of record.
Originally constructed in the 1920s, the BAA school building was a former U.S. postal facility that was not conducive for educational purposes, much less for performing arts. Poor lighting and acoustics impaired the learning experience and key performance spaces were lacking. While the school did have a small black box theater, it did not have a proper auditorium space where students could present musical theater or dance events.
“Every floor a stage, every wall a gallery” was one of the central tenets of the new Boston Arts Academy and a concerted effort was made to look for opportunities within the design to foster cross pollination between the different art forms beyond the rehearsal spaces and classrooms. A monumental gathering stair with a small stage in the main lobby is a popular location where student lunches often turn into impromptu performances. Additional informal spaces, dubbed “eddies,” provide further opportunities for collaborations, informal presentations, and critiques amongst the students and teachers from various departments.
The former lack of key rehearsal and performance spaces was fully addressed, ensuring that the students have the necessary tools to learn their craft. Their new 500-seat proscenium teaching theater – Boston’s only teaching venue of its kind – boasts ADA accessible technical catwalks and control rooms. While rivaling any professional venue in town, it also provides every student an opportunity to learn aspects of technical theatre in both the auditorium and the 150-seat black box theater.
Rounding out the performance spaces is the Recital Hall. This multi-purpose hall can accommodate up to 60 performers and 100 audience members and opens onto a roof terrace, allowing for performances under the stars with views to Fenway Park and the city beyond. During the school day, the terrace doubles as an outdoor classroom for science and art classes, an important feature for an urban school located on a tight, zero lot line site.
Even before the new school building was planned, the Boston Arts Academy was a resounding success story. With the new building, the students have all the tools they need to reach new heights and will be well prepared for their college and professional careers that follow.
Thomas Hains, AIA is principal at Wilson Butler Architects.