A career well designed
Architect Alfred Wojciechowski achieves great heights from a modest office
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Alfred Wojciechowski has designed some of finest homes around, from the Mandarin Oriental in the Back Bay to custom-built getaways in Osterville. His office in the bustling Canal Street home of the architecture firm CBT — where Wojciechowski has worked since 1985 and is a senior principal — is decidedly less luxurious: It’s a 9- by 12-foot space with a partial drop ceiling, a rolling work table, and a bookshelf stuffed with inspiration.
It does have a window — through which Wojciechowski can see a sliver of a new apartment tower he designed next to North Station — as well as the brick-and-beam vibe common to creative offices in older parts of town like Bulfinch Triangle. But mostly, it’s crowded with totems of Wojciechowski’s busy life and projects, past and future. Here are a few of them:
Houston model, Boston model
On his desk, Wojciechowski has a scale model of one of his current projects: a 500-foot apartment tower he’s designing in Houston. He says the work was a cultural and architectural adjustment from Boston, where he has worked for most of his career. A building that tall would be a no-go in many parts of Boston, as evidenced by another model Wojciechowski keeps handy: of the Mandarin Oriental, which stands at just 170 feet tall but stretches nearly as far along Boylston Street as that Houston tower is high. Wojciechowski says height is not an issue in Houston, where there are few zoning rules; his tower will soar above a neighborhood of three-story buildings.
The key to designing in a new city, he says, is to embrace its identity.
“Often we want a place to be just like some other place. Why isn’t it like New York, or Boston?” he said. “But quickly you realize Houston is actually Houston. It is its own place.”
A block of Tyndall stone
Wojciechowski grew up in Winnipeg, and he keeps a rectangular reminder of his home
province atop his bookshelf. It’s a block of Tyndall stone, a variety of limestone popular in Canada. As a kid, he used to bike to a nearby Tyndall stone quarry and look for fossils in the mottled rock. As an architect in Boston in the 1990s, he persuaded
Planet Hollywood restaurant chain to use Tyndall stone for a restaurant it was planning on Boylston Street.
“They did everything in stucco,” he says. “We did a cost analysis and told them it would be the same price. So it’s stone now.”
Planet Hollywood ended up scuttling its plans for a Boston restaurant. The stone building, however, was built and is still there today.
Metal and marble
On top of a file cabinet, Wojciechowski keeps a tray with a collection of bronze corners, copper tubes, and palm-size chunks of white Carrera marble. They are the raw materials of his work, and they come in handy when he’s talking with clients about interiors and fixtures, as he did when he custom-designed each condo for buyers at the Mandarin Oriental.
“This is very tactile,” he says of the materials. “You never know how heavy something is. But here you can lift it and say, ‘Oh, wow. That’s heavy.’ ”
One dollar and 10 cents
There’s a dollar bill and a dime in a small picture frame on Wojciechowski’s bookshelf. It’s a play on CBT’s address — 110 Canal St. — and a souvenir of the firm’s move to the office in 2000. It’s also a reminder of how far the business has come. CBT today is one of Boston’s biggest architecture firms, with seemingly half the high-profile buildings in the city on its resume, along with out-of-town projects from Abu Dhabi to Taiwan to Puerto Rico.
When it moved to the space, the firm had 100 employees, with room for 140.
“We thought that would be plenty,” Wojciechowski says. Today, they’re at about 250.
An X-Acto and a miniature Mini Cooper
Architects have long modeled their buildings by hand, slicing strips of foam board and paper to make scaled-down versions of skyscrapers and supermarkets. It’s painstaking work. In an organizer on his desk, Wojciechowski still has a black-and-yellow X-Acto knife he has used for decades. But across the room, he also has an example of newer technology: a model of his Mini Cooper, created by a 3-D printer in the office. That’s how CBT builds most of its models these days. The printer can spit out a model of a skyscraper in a couple of hours.
“We’re able to generate three, four, five models in the time it took to do one,” he says. “I did get really good at measuring things, though.”