WBUR unveils new space for the city
CitySpace, WBUR radio’s new cultural events venue on Commonwealth Avenue, has a modern, almost futuristic feel. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows frame a sleek interior that combines traditional hardwood floors with walls decorated with metallic panels.
The studio at the heart of the venue is laden with high-tech gadgetry, from robotic cameras operated from a control center to a super high-resolution LED screen.
But Charlie Kravetz, the station’s general manager, said in remarks delivered Wednesday evening at a ribbon-cutting event for CitySpace that it all represents a return to an age-old art form: conversation.
He likened the venue’s stage to Faneuil Hall and Old South Meeting House, public spaces where people gathered to discuss and argue about contentious issues such as slavery and the nature of democracy.
“This is a very modern version of that,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s designed for the digital world.”
Despite Wednesday’s festivities, the venue, which is located on the ground level at 890 Commonwealth Ave., doesn’t officially open until Feb. 28. WBUR’s studio is in the same building, on the third floor.
“Honestly, nobody really in the community knew where WBUR was,” said Timothy Mansfield, a principal with the architectural firm Cambridge Seven Associates, which designed the space. “[It had] no presence.”
To correct that, architects worked to instill the space with reminders of the radio station’s identity.
They had WBUR’s audio engineers record themselves saying “Welcome to the Lavine Broadcast Center.” (Bain Capital co-managing partner Jonathan Lavine and his wife, Jeannie, donated $5 million to help fund the CitySpace project.)
Designers also used images of soundwaves as the inspiration for patterns that decorate metal installations flanking the stage. Curved designs on the floors and ceiling also are meant to echo the appearance of sound waves.
CitySpace solves another problem hounding the station, officials said — a lack of venues large enough to accommodate major events.
Until now, WBUR has been able to fit a maximum of about 80 people in a room down the hall from its central newsroom.
“It was a real challenge to find space,” said Amy MacDonald, director of community engagement.
CitySpace’s main performance area can seat about 275 people. Even before the official opening, the venue will host a student journalism conference organized by Boston University’s student newspaper.
CitySpace is part of a larger push to expand the station’s work and content offerings, an effort it is calling the Campaign for WBUR. The space ended up netting the station two of its largest donations ever, including the $5 million from the Lavines.
In an interview prior to Wednesday’s event, Jonathan Lavine said he hopes the space becomes an essential part of Boston.
“I hope it is the go-to place where people look to go to learn, to discuss important topics, and to be challenged,” Lavine said, “and that it goes from being a novelty to being part of the fabric of the city.”
Max Reyes can be reached @firstname.lastname@example.org.