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Historic Preservation Students Initiate Efforts to Save Architectural Artifact

Terra Cotta Wall Feature Original to 1886 Design of 951 Boylston Street Building

Original Terra Cotta Wall Feature at 951 Boylston

Original Terra Cotta Wall Feature at 951 Boylston

©Boston Architectural College; Photo by Bonica Ayala

In late August, students in the Master of Design Studies (MDS) Historic Preservation program at the Boston Architectural College initiated efforts to save the first and only historic architectural feature found on the interior of the College's 951 Boylston Street building.

Ongoing renovations had revealed a terra cotta centerpiece built into a first-floor brick wall in early August, providing a coincidental learning opportunity for an incoming group of low-residency-online Historic Preservation MDS students. The group was invited to document the wall as part of the required Historic Research and Documentation course, led by instructor Vanessa Zeoli.

The students identified the feature as a floral expression of the Richardsonian Romanesque style popularized in the late nineteenth century by architect Henry Hobson Richardson - part of the original 1886 design by Arthur H. Vinial - and subsequently questioned plans to cover it.

"Reusing it in the final design is an opportunity to preserve an original feature and pay homage to Boston's role in the evolution of the American Architectural Movement," said Zeoli.

The class developed a rough plan to preserve the wall and approached BAC administration with the idea. After gaining support from Bob Ogle, Director of Historic Preservation, and Jim Dunn, Executive Vice President, the class met with the construction team and was granted approval to formally submit a plan for a change order.

"The preservation plan will allow us to utilize the wall as an ongoing opportunity, both within the Historic Preservation program and across disciplines, to continually engage students in experiential learning," said Ogle.

The wall can be incorporated into a variety of study areas, including background and archival research, traditional building materials and methods, and masonry conservation techniques, as a way to teach practical skills.

"Saving this historic feature and utilizing it as a teaching tool will not only compliment the students' education for years to come, but will also illustrate the BAC's commitment to practice-based professional education," said Zeoli.

The effort to save and expose the terra cotta and brick wall at 951 Boylston Street was initiated by a group of second-year Historic Preservation Master's students that includes: Ernest Abuin, Kelly Goold, Erin Lutton, Kristin McCullough, Anne MacIver, and Ruth Roulet-Mendoza.