Zonings Influence on Design

By Matt Richardson

Sited along the Boston waterfront in the Seaport District, the ICA was the first building within the ongoing Fan Pier development.  There were several design constraints from the beginning of the project which led to the buildings form and function.  The most significant was a new zoning law which stated that one cannot build to the water’s edge and must abide to a minimum setback of 25’-0”.  This was put in place to preserve and enhance view walkways to the water, and provide a balance between the new developments and the need for public access to the waterfront.  Due to this minimum setback, it would shift the program significantly so that the required gallery space no longer fits solely on the lower levels. 

 This led to the cantilevered gallery which exists today.  Projected over the harbor walk with a large cantilevered gallery, this allowed the ground level to actually pull back a bit further and turned the space under into an engaging public space; an interaction that connects to the water and City views through the built experience within and externally under the overhang.  The typical harbor walk experience consists of a sidewalk along the buildings edges.  This design can engage by embracing the public space along with the building and the landscape.

 It is very encouraging to see how designers can adapt and react with certain constraints.  The results of this project have made a new public space in this City which is defined by a building, and a building which is defined, initially, by a zoning requirement.  In a way this has made the architecture work in the City to engage the public realm at the ground level instead of holding it all inside.  The building gestures to the public very literally, becoming a synthesis of public and private space.