ADD Inc Creates New Architectural Landmark in Boston Skyline with Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s Student Residence Hall

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The new, 21-story MassArt Student Residence Hall designed by ADD Inc was inspired by Gustav Klimt's famous 1909 painting "The Tree of Life" and features a café and living room, a health center, a communal “Pajama Floor” with kitchen, game room, laundry facilities and fitness center and 17 floors of dorms rooms.

Massachusetts College of Art and Design's New Residence Hall Designed by ADD Inc

'MassArt wanted the building to stand out in the Boston skyline and meaningfully identify them as an art college,' said B.K. Boley, lead architect and principal, ADD Inc.

There is a new architectural landmark in Boston’s skyline, a $52 million residence hall that personifies the Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt). Designed by architecture firm ADD Inc, the tower doubles the college’s housing capacity and provides an innovative environment where 493 students can live, study and play at affordable, state college rental rates.

The design of the new residence hall exemplifies ADD Inc’s innovative process. Designers drew on the best ideas from junior and senior staff members to harmonize the goals and aspirations of college professors, administrators, students, trustees, alumni and the building’s owner, the Massachusetts State College Building Authority (MSCBA). ADD Inc conducted in-depth benchmarking, hosted focus groups and design charrettes, and developed full-scale mockup units for students to explore and critique.

“MassArt wanted the building to stand out in the Boston skyline and meaningfully identify them as an art college,” said B.K. Boley, lead architect and principal, ADD Inc. “It was the students’ idea that the building look like a painting and that it be just as colorful and vibrant as they are. ADD Inc suggested Gustav Klimt’s “Tree of Life” which helps convey the school’s rebirth and continuation.” In September, the incoming student residents voted to nickname the building, “The Tree House”.

The 21-story, 145,600 square foot building features a ground floor café and living room, a second floor health center, and a third-floor communal “Pajama Floor” with kitchen, game room, laundry facilities, and fitness center. The rest of the 17 floors are made up of 136 suites configured in single, double and three-bedroom layouts.

ADD Inc drew inspiration from Klimt’s famous 1909 painting as a metaphor for the building. The façade features 5,500 boldly colored metal panels in five custom colors arranged at five different widths and depths.

The colors range from dark brown at the base to mirror tree bark, and grow progressively lighter, making the building appear taller. Green window panels punctuate the façade to represent the tree’s leaves. The building is such a unique highlight in the skyline that it has transformed MassArt’s image and presence along the Avenue of the Arts.

The curved base – the proverbial trunk of the tree – was designed to accommodate an underground tunnel that swerves through the site and required architects to cantilever the rectangular building above.

Stylish Spoon Café Designed in Collaboration with Students:
MassArt’s architecture and interior design students in Professor Paul Hajian’s studio helped shape the design and function of the ground floor café. Students wanted it to serve primarily as a nightspot for those too young to go to clubs or lounges. In addition, the café is open to the public. They also suggested a central communal table that glows like a fire in the cold winter evenings to help draw students in and create opportunities for conversations between Wentworth, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, and MassArt students, the three institutions share dining and health center facilities.

Students from MassArt’s graphic design studio named the café “Spoon” and developed the logo. The space’s showpiece is a mirrored art piece commissioned from Boston artist Tim Murdoch that covers the walls above the benches and jiggles as students set off the motion sensors in the bench seating.

The Lobby Living Room:
The lobby is an extension of the tower’s plaza, a tour de force by landscape architect Shauna Gillies Smith of Ground. The lobby’s yellow Maroso sofas echo the organic shapes of the outside benches. The ceiling is constructed of varying widths of lacquered western hemlock to reinforce the tree concept, and the blue-glass bubbles on the security desk evoke water. Steel frames surround the doorways to add an industrial, unfinished edge. The carpet yarn colors were chosen to match with every paint color in the floors above so that there was only one carpet in the entire project. An oversized, site-specific installation piece by school alumnus Nicole Chesny adorns the wall.

Harvard Vanguard Health Center:
The tower’s health clinic is available to students at neighboring Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS).

The Pajama Floor:
Because MassArt has a very active residence life program with many weekly events, ADD Inc created the Pajama Floor where students can lounge. Located on the third floor, it features communal areas, such as a kitchen, a game room, pool table, sofas and TV, and a group study area, as well as laundry facilities and a fitness room. Communal spaces can be arranged to allow simultaneous or separate use.

The laundry room, located beside the pool table, is partially visible behind a glass wall marked with a filmed graphic of pink and purple bubbles.

Dorm Rooms:
Four and five-person suites make up the remaining 17 floors of the residence. The building includes “art walls” between rooms that students can use to draw, paint and express their creativity. The students’ doodles, political cartoons, and messages form a constantly evolving art gallery.

Each residential floor contains 8 semi-suites, common space and/or a workroom. A semi-suite is a unit type where single, double, and/or triple bedrooms share a foyer and a bathroom, but don’t have kitchen or living room spaces internal to the unit. Design extends to even the most private of spaces, and each shower, sink and toilet compartment has a vertical row of multicolored tiles.

There are two common spaces, one at the end of each floor, that allow natural light to fill the corridors. The first is a large lounge with a plasma screen, sofa and swivel chairs and a snack kitchen near the elevators with a direct view of downtown Boston and the jumbotron at Fenway Park. The second, much smaller space, is a cellphone lounge at the far end of the hall – a quiet space that features a view of the historic Mission Hill Church.

One concern that the school had with a high-rise design was that the floors would all look the same. ADD Inc countered that by using a palette that ranges from deep blues to bright orange and yellow throughout the corridors that changes every two floors.

The residence hall’s design and engineering decisions were made with solar orientation in mind. Windows on the tower’s north sides provide light favorable to artists’ work and fewer windows on the south side help reduce heat. The windows are operable and the school employs an electronic system that lets students know when it’s advisable to open or close them.

The building received a Silver LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and its energy usage is 22% more efficient than code mandates. Other green features include Low-E windows with solar tint that reduce heat gain, double insulated metal panels, and low- flow plumbing fixtures that reduce the amount of potable usage by 33%. More than 50% of the material used in the residential hall has recycled content, 20% from local sources, and 70% of the wood is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

About ADD Inc:
ADD Inc, a premier architecture and design firm, creates award-winning projects across the country from its offices in Boston, MA and Miami, FL. With an innovative spirit and deep expertise, the firm’s design teams develop a guiding vision for each project to enhance value and enrich communities. By merging that vision with collaboration and business savvy, ADD Inc delivers consistently notable results in workplace, mixed use, academic, retail, branding and residential design.

About the Massachusetts State College Building Authority (MSCBA):
The Massachusetts State College Building Authority (MSCBA) finances, plans, designs, constructs and oversees the management of over 14,000 beds in residence halls and student activity facilities on the nine State University campuses. The housing, dining, parking, athletic, and campus center facilities developed by the Authority serve 40,000 students, one third of who live in campus housing.

About the Massachusetts College of Art and Design:
Massachusetts College of Art & Design is a public, independent college of art and design located in downtown Boston at 621 Huntington Avenue. For more information, visit

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