Boston Commonwealth Pier

Bridging the past with the present

Once the largest of its kind in the world, the Seaport World Trade Centre served as a busy trade platform and Port of Entry for immigrants into The Land of Milk and Honey.

Although, the Seaport building’s heyday is long gone, paradoxically, through many years the derelict structure has served as a backdrop to the lively activity along the Boston waterfront. Yet, to this day, it has remained a passive observer, a shadow of its former self.

Despite its neglect, the building’s quality as a testament to the passage of time and as an impressive architectonic achievement makes it highly suitable for transformation. It is a physical structure which already exists on the citizens’ mental map of their city. A place that has the potential to bridge the past with the present and anchor the development of the premises in a historical context. Using adaptive transformation is a sustainable means to both preserve and reactivate an important piece of Bostonian and American history.

The approach of adaptive transformation assesses the building’s heritage and structural qualities and is based on the belief that the most architectural significant statement is often made through what is left untouched or enhanced.

By 2024, the Seaport building and surrounding urban spaces will be revitalised as the Commonwealth Pier – a vibrant mixed-use destination, featuring modern flexible office spaces, exhibition and event venues, outward-facing amenities like cafés, restaurants, and shops. The development will also include a grand public plaza, green urban space, and an enriched harbour walk experience.

To ensure that the pier can be enjoyed by generations to come, the transformation of it incorporates advanced design strategies for resilience and sustainability. What was until recently considered a languishing relic of the past will see itself transformed to a future resilient and adaptable destination for the citizens of Boston.

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Adaptive Reuse of post-industrial structures has always attracted our interest. In a blend of “past-meets-future”, the industrial character combined with a contemporary appeal can vibrate throughout the space, creating an amazing mix of styles, textures, and colours.

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During our design investigations, we have explored a diverse palette of options. Sketching in both 2D, hand drawings, and 3D, several iterations of physical models, is among the tools that we use to gain an understanding of the existing structure and its potential.

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Commonwealth Pier Boston Concept Diagrams 03 office
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Previous experiences show that great office spaces and hotel layout work perfectly within A-Class Standard of 56 inches grid. Within the structural grid and articulated with the roof structure, sunken gardens have been integrated in the building design.

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Placing a new large urban square at harbour level allows for greater connectivity with its surroundings. A slim tall structure containing a new hotel function will highlight the new square from afar, acting as a landmark and defining the arrival.

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Boston Commonwealth Pier Water view adaptive transformation
Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Hybrid Mixed-Use, retail, office, event space
65,500 m²
Ongoing, completion expected in 2024
International invited competition, 2017
Local Architect:
CBT Architects
Landscape Architect:
IBI Placemaking
Thornton Tomasetti (Structure), Arup (MEP, Sustainability)
Targeting LEED Version 4 Gold Certification
Cityscape Digital for Pembroke, Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects

The widescale transformation of the Seaport World Trade Centre in the historic Boston Seaport District introduces new ways of exploring and engaging with the waterfront. By revitalising the site and the impressive structure, the Commonwealth Pier is returned to is former bustling state.

While the design honours the site’s historic integrity, it will also introduce new materials, increase daylight, and provide new points of connectivity. Modern flexible office areas, improved green outdoor spaces, and public facilities along with green retail, event and exhibition spaces and a large waterfront plaza serving as a central gathering point will breathe new air into the area and make it an attractive downtown destination.

The South Boston Commonwealth Piers play a central role in the continuous development of the city of Boston, including its ambition to enhance the vitality of neighbourhoods, encourage mixed-use growth in the commercial district, and create a more sustainable waterfront for future generations.

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The design of the site includes enhanced outdoor spaces and public amenities, including courtyards, walkways, green spaces, and a grand waterfront plaza. The plaza will become the pier’s central gathering point, providing a flexible outdoor space for year-round activities. It will feature tree plantings, custom seating, and areas for moveable tables and chairs.

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Context and neighbourhood range
Commonwealth pier renders site towards city office commercial

The revitalisation project provides new connections and internal spaces and enhances the daylight conditions  site plan and design concept.

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Commonwealth pier drawings siteplan office commercial
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Niches in the building’s façade will provide additional public seating, shaded areas, and connectivity to retail and dining.

The revitalisation project, which is targeting LEED Gold Certification, incorporates advanced design strategies for resilience and sustainability to ensure the pier’s continued enjoyment for generations to come. The construction of Commonwealth Pier is expected to complete in 2024.

Commonwealth pier drawings section office commercial

The design intent for Commonwealth Pier is to preserve the building’s unique heritage while making it a highly attractive modern-day destination. The stone arches and cornice of the historic neo-classical headhouse will remain intact.

The façade of the building’s northern extension will include exposed columns and column connections from the original structure. With the introduction of curtain wall and other lightweight materials, the building will integrate seamlessly into its neighbourhood context.

SHL Architects Seaport WTC Boston visual 04
“This revitalization will bring new life to this iconic building, reconnecting it to the harbour and the neighbourhood by creating a unique waterfront experience for Boston."
– Andrew Dankwerth, Senior Vice President, Design & Development Pembroke

The Harbourwalk, a popular paved pedestrian path along Boston Harbour, runs along the site’s perimeter and views to downtown Boston, East Boston, and the Boston Harbour. There, too, newly designed spaces accommodate custom seating, integrated planters, and outdoor lighting—all of which will allow for a dynamic visitor experience.

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Commonwealth pier renders loggia office commercial