In the 1990s, to ensure that students had every opportunity to succeed, Emerson committed to create a new campus, selling its cramped Back Bay real estate to acquire buildings in the blighted “combat zone.” After moving to the historic Piano Row District, the college/master planning team analyzed adaptive reuse of nearby underutilized buildings and parcels. The intensely urban area is filled with traditional architecture and abuts some of the city’s most important and historic places, including the venerable Boston Common. The planning team negotiated complex overlay
district considerations and concerns from advocacy groups to thoughtfully integrate new construction and historic preservation into efficient spaces that address the programming needs of the college. Each building acquisition or new construction opportunity required intense analysis to determine a range of uses to satisfy academic and student life requirements within the strict confines of the urban environment. The historic Paramount Theatre becomes part of the Paramount Center that preserves the theatre as a live performance venue but also incorporates classrooms, studios, and student housing. The Student Dining Center seats 540 students during meal times and transitions to a cabaret to provide a gathering space at night.
In the last decade, the planning team worked with the college to focus intensely on student spaces and enhancing a sense of place on the urban campus. Solutions include the creation of select destination lounges in student residences—large and amenity-rich spaces that serve students from across the dorm and maximize space for beds—and a multipurpose student center at 172 Tremont Street that provides a variety of spaces including conference rooms, kitchens, study lounges, and offices for student organizations. The Commons at the Little Building will also provide additional student gathering spaces.
After a phased, decades-long move, Emerson College now boasts an unrivaled range of state-of-the-art performance venues, immersive learning facilities, campus housing for more than 70 percent of its student body, and multipurpose student life destinations for dining, studying, and gathering. The relocation plan aligned with the City of Boston’s plans to revitalize the area and positioned Emerson as a leader among Boston’s higher education institutions with students housed on campus. The college now has a more contiguous and comprehensive campus for the first time in its 140-year history, reestablishing a vibrant cultural neighborhood integrating academic uses.
Elkus Manfredi Architects; Mikyoung Kim Design