David Hacin of Hacin + Associates stands on the roof of his firm’s awardwinning FP3 luxury housing development in the Fort Point district.
Suffolk Construction Chairman and CEO John Fish is overseeing more than 13 major building projects in Boston. He stands atop Millennium Place, one of his (and Boston’s) marquee properties.
Joseph Fallon spearheaded the development of Boston’s Waterfront district, including Fan Pier, shown behind him.
Landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand designed Q Park (pictured) and helped green the waterfront district.
Fan Pier in the Back Bay is attracting both visitors and developers to the waterfront.
A bird’s-eye view of the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
Millennium Place is the jewel in the crown of John Fish’s Suffolk Construction.
FP3’s façade integrates modern design with the city’s architectural legacy.
"Boston has traditionally, in terms of architecture, been led by a series of very bold thinkers,” says architect David Hacin. “Charles Bulfinch and I.M. Pei and his team all looked at Boston at different periods of their growth and had a very optimistic and ambitious, forward-looking take on where the city could be going.” Today, Hacin is one of the bold thinkers directing Boston’s cityscape into the future. His architectural firm Hacin + Associates has designed such marvels as FP3, an award-winning development in the Fort Point district that exemplifies how chic, contemporary design can not only coexist in Bulfinch’s Boston, but enhance it. Hacin’s latest project is District Hall on South Boston Waterfront, a 12,000-square-foot, one-story building that will house the Boston Innovation Center. He says the $5.5 million freestanding building will be the “public library” of the Innovation District, and will allow people to experience architecture “at a human level.” Indeed, Mayor Menino, the champion of the Waterfront’s emerging Innovation District, applauds the building as offering a key component of social infrastructure for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Hacin’s design sense reflects both a distinguished education— he graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and then went on to study at Harvard Graduate School of Design—and his upbringing. Originally from Switzerland, Hacin is the son of an architect, and throughout his life he observed how Europeans interacted with their buildings, statues, and public gardens. “They understand what’s important about the historic fabric of their cities,” he says, “but they also think pretty boldly about making sure the next layer of architecture represents their time and is as bold and as meaningful as the architecture of the past.” This perspective not only informs the work of Hacin’s firm, but also his role on the Boston Civic Design Commission, a panel that’s helping decide the future look and feel of the city’s public spaces. “I’m hoping, with this new cycle of development that is happening in the city, that we regain our confidence to think boldly about the future like the great architects and developers of Boston’s past,” he says.
John Fish is one of the men quite literally laying down the foundation for this bold future Hacin hopes for. The chairman and CEO of Suffolk Construction, Fish has grown his company into a billion-dollar behemoth that tops the list of general contractors in New England. According to the Boston Business Journal, of the 53 major projects happening in the Commonwealth today, Fish is building 13 of them. His firm powered through the Great Recession, coming out the other end unscathed and with acquisitions dotting the country. While he’s well on his way to building a national brand, the Hingham native says Boston will always remain the cornerstone of his business. “I’m very proud of my Boston accent,” Fish says, sounding more like Bobby Kennedy than Click and Clack. “This is a city that I love deeply, and I feel strongly that I have a responsibility as a Bostonian to do whatever I possibly can to make this a better community.”
When Fish graduated from Bowdoin College in 1982, he looked on as general contractors like his father transformed old buildings into housing and mixed-use developments. Even before then, in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, Fish believes that Boston lacked a clear vision of its future, and construction generally followed the ebb and flow of manufacturing. “Now the buildings are becoming more reflective of where the city is going, as opposed to where the city has been,” he says. So while building respectfully in historic neighborhoods like the North End and Chinatown, Fish is breaking new ground with projects like Waterside Place, a $125 million 20-story mixed-use development on South Boston Waterfront, which is perhaps one of last frontiers for new construction. “The whole idea of the Innovation District is going to transform the city of Boston,” Fish says of the Waterfront, “and again, it is reflective of where we are going, not where we have been.”
Leading the charge in the Innovation District is developer Joseph Fallon, president and CEO of The Fallon Company. Much like Fish, Fallon grew up learning the construction industry from his father. He eventually transitioned into real estate when he began working under his childhood neighbor in Milton, Thomas Flatley, the legendary developer who arrived in America in the 1950s as a pauper and then went on to become the king of a billion-dollar real estate empire. Fallon’s first major development in Boston came in his mid 20s when working on Copley Place with JMB Realty. “The Back Bay at that time in the ’80s was a lot different than it is today,” Fallon says. “It was an area that needed something to connect the neighborhoods.” The development of Copley Place linked Newbury Street to the Prudential and tied the rest of the Back Bay together. Some 30 years later, Fallon views the Innovation District as having the same potential. “The Waterfront had the same element of missing pieces,” he says. “I saw the ability to connect pieces of an area and make it a mix of uses.”
The Waterfront was a developer’s dream that Fallon saw coming. He watched as the Big Dig connected the inner city with this forgotten parking lot that once housed Boston’s heavy industry. He anticipated how the new Boston Convention Center would draw thousands of people in search of places to dine, stay, and spend their money. Others pitched shovels into the Waterfront—men like Nick Pritzker and Anthony Athanas—but it was Fallon who ultimately developed the most coveted site, Fan Pier. He bought the 21 acres between John Joseph Moakley Courthouse and Pier 4 for $115 million from Nick Pritzker in the third round of an auction in 2005. The aptly named pier folds into Boston Harbor, providing spectacular water views. The site has since given rise to such stunning mixed-use buildings as One Marina Park Drive, Fallon’s 18-story crown jewel designed by Elkhus Manfredi Architects, which juts out from the center of the pier like a diamond. “The most important part for me, as we look through developments, is the timing,” Fallon says, “because all the different uses that we bring to a site—whether it’s retail, life science, residential, office, and in Fan Pier, a marina—all these different uses are on their own cycle, and you have to understand the rhythm of a project to know when it’s the right time to build that use.” By all measures, as Fan Pier continues to grow, Fallon was right on time.
Beyond brick and mortar, glass and steel, the Waterfront is also a story about soil and water. What was once a landfill languishing away as a parking lot is now being transformed into lush, verdant green space. Landscape architect Gary Hilderbrand of Reed Hilderbrand is one of the men responsible for this green revival. A professor in practice at Harvard Graduate School of Design, Hilderbrand says we must first look back to where landscape architecture took root in Boston before we can fully appreciate what’s being done today. He points to Frederick Law Olmsted as the first protector of Boston’s green spaces, and credits him for “tying up” areas that now define the city. “The places that have now become important figures of nature, or adapted nature, within the city, and places that are really important to people’s lives every day wouldn’t be there had this ‘parks movement’ not happened between the 1870s and 1900,” he explains of Olmsted’s lasting impact. Today, Hilderbrand is on the same mission as Omsted, but in reverse: He’s breaking through the fractured concrete of Boston’s heavy industry and returning spaces to a natural state. No area illustrates this better than the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, where Hilderbrand and others built public parks, promenades, and plazas on top of the Central Artery.
“I think this work relates directly to that 19th-century setup where we are looking at the land not as a cheap commodity, but really as a living and working surface,” he says. “It will live and change and adapt and grow.” So in designing the gardens and promenades on the Waterfront, Hilderbrand is considering more than simply the natural aesthetic. Rather, his design weighs the “working ecology” of the landscape, accounting for such elements as rising tides and storm surges. He talks about how the saplings he has planted will eventually provide a “significant urban canopy” for the next generation, bringing shade to the streets and sidewalks snaking through the Waterfront. In this way, Hilderbrand views his landscape architecture as having a more lasting impact than the surrounding buildings, which will in all likelihood be razed and replaced after a hundred years or so. The natural infrastructure Hilderbrand and others set in place on the Waterfront will serve as the foundation from which this new part of the city will evolve and continue to define itself. “I think we are doing well in rebuilding a vital part of the city,” Hilderbrand says of the Waterfront. “In the not-so-distant future it will have its own identity just as the Back Bay does, or as Beacon Hill and Charles Street do.”
And so it is that the standard Charles Bulfinch set more than 200 years ago continues to guide and inspire generations of Boston builders, developers, designers, and architects. Though the methods may have changed— and the pay is certainly better—these men share in the same great responsibility of shaping Boston that Bulfinch took upon himself all those years ago. What that future will look like one can only guess, but thankfully we can take comfort in knowing that the city is in good, capable hands.
photography by andy ryan; hulton archive/getty images (bulfinch); paul marotta/getty images (hancock tower); gregory kushmerek (greenway); paul marotta/getty images (library); dario cantatore/getty images (pei); culture club/getty images (faneuil);
September 18, 2018