Renewing an Historic Landmark in Boston for
Berklee College of Music
BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC, BOSTON, MA — The historic 138–150 Massachusetts Avenue complex is one of the core academic and student life buildings at Berklee College of Music, located at the crossroads of its Boston campus. Over the past 18 years, MDS has completed multiple renovations to the 1904 former hotel, upgrading academic and student life spaces, and creating and later expanding the Stan Getz Library and Media Center.
Our most recent renovation involved the removal of the single story, ground level addition along Massachusetts Avenue and Belvidere Street and interior renovations on levels B, A and 1 that improved academic and student life spaces. The project addressed significant infrastructure deficiencies, created new accessible entries, added a new elevator, and also integrated seismic upgrades. Construction was phased to enable continuous occupancy. Phase one accessibility improvements opened in 2014. Phase two opened in October 2016.
What was previously an inaccessible and unwelcoming entrance to an academic and campus life building is now a transparent and animated storefront that reveals Berklee music and culture.
Places for students to touchdown, congregate and see-and-be-seen activate the lower levels of the complex.
History of 150 Massachusetts Avenue
The original 138-150 Massachusetts Avenue complex was built in two phases of construction: the southern portion in 1902 and the north half in 1908. The complex functioned as one “apartment hotel”. In the 1950’s the entire building was remodeled and reopened as the Sherry Biltmore Hotel. The bottom three floors contained stores, lounges, ballroom, kitchen as well as other functional and service areas. The upper five floors contained guest bedrooms.
In 1963 a fire in the upper floors of the hotel caused significant damage. Berklee College of Music subsequently purchased the property in 1972 and reconfigured the interior to provide student residences on the upper floors and classrooms, practice rooms and offices on the lower floors. At this time the street level storefront systems was replaced with the pink granite panel facade that was removed in our most recent renovation.
Our design approach to the new street level facade was to create an expression in the spirit of the original building. To this end, we treated the Belvidere Street facade as a restoration project, and developed a compatible expression at the street level along Massachusetts Avenue. We remained true to the original glazed storefronts concept of the Sherry Biltmore Hotel by reintroducing as much glazing as possible and using contemporary architectural elements.
One key aspect of the restoration was the construction of a new bearing wall to replace the 1970s addition along Belvidere Street. With great care and teamwork among the design, construction and contractor teams, the new Belvidere Street facade melds seamlessly and appears to have always been there. The building was further restored by replacing the missing architectural cornice along the roof edge that had been removed due to safety concerns.
A wider, landscaped sidewalk improved site accessibility and opened views to the adjacent 1894 Saint Cecilia Parish that was recently restored.
This project knit together multiple levels on each floor that were previously inaccessible to users with mobility challenges. A new lobby floor was created at street level to provide access to the residential elevators, which was previously at a half level between floors. New elevator doors were retrofitted and a separate elevator was added to make all four academic floors fully accessible. A ramp was also created to connect the elevator to the main lobby.
The main entrance remains on the corner of the building and is now enhanced by a second entrance and lobby on Massachusetts Avenue. A clear circulation pathway establishes a connecting spine between these two entrances, animated by places for students to touchdown, congregate and see-and-be-seen.
The renovation created a range of student meeting areas, classrooms, practice rooms, and rehearsal spaces that support Berklee's specialized programs in performance, composition and production. The former cafeteria was converted into a multipurpose rehearsal space that has become wildly popular with students. It matches the stage depth of the nearby Berklee Performance Center and is reserved by students nearly 24/7. Classrooms feature specialized, state-of-the-art equipment and technology, complementing Berklee's advanced, high-tech programs.