Building Technology Showcase:
Building History

Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems

Street view of the historic Fort Point Channel District. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library Archives

Conserving Energy, Preserving History

The building at the heart of the Building Technology Showcase is a six-story, three-bay loft brick structure with classical revival-style detailing. Originally constructed in 1913 for the wholesale leather merchant W. Herbert Abbott, it was one of many historic buildings designed and built by the Boston Wharf Company, a key real estate developer in Massachusetts during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

 

The majority of the structure has been left almost unchanged since its construction 100 years ago. In planning the renovations, CSE worked closely with the Fort Point Channel Landmark District Commission and National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Planning Program, developing a retrofit plan that could deliver energy savings and still respect the building’s historic character.

  

Fort Point: Window to the Past, Gate to the Future

The Building Technology Showcase is located in Boston's Fort Point Channel district. This area of Boston was first developed in the 1830s and continued to grow over the course of the next century as the city expanded its trade and manufacturing sectors, becoming a global hub for apparel and textiles.


The wool trade was particularly important to this growth; in the 1930s, an estimated 60 to 70 percent of all wool traded in the United States was passing through Boston’s docks. By the 1950s, however, this industry was in decline, and as the need for manufacturing and warehousing shrank, more and more buildings were abandoned. In the 1970s, artists began to discover these empty properties, quickly building up a thriving arts community that has become one of the most prominent in New England.

 

In the 1990s, a boom in real estate development brought new attention to this community; more recently, the City of Boston announced that the Fort Point Channel area would be the future home of the Boston Innovation District, a 1,000-acre development aimed at the start-ups and innovative businesses that will drive the next phase of Boston’s economic expansion.

 

From an architectural perspective, Fort Point’s buildings aren’t just noteworthy for their age, but also for their cohesiveness. The Boston Wharf Company, which administered development of the District’s real estate and infrastructure from the late 18th century onwards, used only two staff architects to design the majority of the District’s buildings. This, in combination with the more stringent building codes introduced in the 1880s, created significant continuity in terms of massing, scale, and style throughout the District.

 

The result is the most significant collection of historic industrial loft buildings still remaining in Boston, built at a key moment in the city’s social, urban, and economic development. For this reason, the Fort Point District has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 2004, and was formally declared a Landmark District by the City of Boston in 2009.

 

Further Information

Learn more about the past and future of the Fort Point District: