Even on a gray day, with a sheet of light snowfall blurring the skyline, the views from the sixth floor of this former furniture store are spectacular. To the north, bustling Washington Street points to downtown skyscrapers; to the southeast, rows of triple-deckers stretch over the low hills of Roxbury and Dorchester.
No, this is not the latest luxury condominium tower to go up in booming Boston. It's the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, a gleaming, city-owned $123.9 million monument to contemporary urban architecture in the heart of Roxbury's Dudley Square.
Boston officials Thursday gave a sneak peek inside the Bolling Building, which will become the administrative headquarters of the Boston Public Schools when it opens this spring, after almost three years of construction. It will also house the Roxbury Innovation Center, a publicly funded startup accelerator, on the second floor and retail shops at sidewalk level.
"When we started, we went around the community and had discussions with people who have lived here a long time," said Victor W. Vizgaitis, a principal at Watertown-based Sasaki Associates, which co-designed the building with the Dutch company Mecanoo. "They were incredibly passionate about their memories of Dudley's past but also incredibly passionate about what it could be. I'd like this building to be a starting point for that."
The Bolling project presented the two designers with significant architectural challenges. Three separate structures that used to sit on the site — and were in various stages of decay — had to be stitched together into a cohesive whole.
The most prominent of the former structures was the 1880s-era Ferdinand Building, vacant since the Ferdinand family's furniture business closed in the 1970s.
During the decades that followed, the Ferdinand became a symbol of the blight that afflicted Dudley, its grimy, boarded-up façade repelling visitors from the neighborhood. Today, after a thorough cleaning and restoration that revealed intricate masonry work and striking polychromatic brick, the building looks and feels like an invitation to stay a while.
While the Ferdinand's façade was preserved, its structure and interior could not be salvaged. As a result, the Bolling Building is mostly new construction. Numerous windows bring natural light into modern, open-layout workspaces and glass-walled conference rooms. For a project that spans three buildings, the interior is impressively seamless, with the designers mostly avoiding ugly ramps between sections, misplaced windows, and uneven floors.
By spring, the city will name the businesses that have signed leases for five of building's six retail spaces, which total 18,000 square feet. It is seeking a "destination restaurant" tenant for the sixth and biggest retail spot, which had served as the base of operations for the construction team led by Shawmut Design and Construction.
Sprinkled among the new are nods to Dudley's rich history, including old maps painted on the walls. Perhaps the most arresting interior flourish is a set of glowing lights on the second-floor ceiling that trace the route of the former Washington Street Elevated rail line like a long-exposure photograph. The line, which passed just outside the Ferdinand's windows, was demolished in 1987.
While screeching Orange Line trains may be a distant memory from Dudley's past, the route they traced will soon look a lot more like the neighborhood's future. Later this year, young Roxbury entrepreneurs will gather under the lights to work on the Next Big Thing, at home in a building worthy of an ascendant Dudley Square.