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The Hayden Building

CUBE design + research

Project Name

The Hayden Building


681 Washington Street


Project Status


Year Completed



8,500 sq. feet

Construction Cost



Historic Boston Incorporated


  • Structural Engineer: L.A. Fuess Partners

Certifications and Designations

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Project Description

The adaptive reuse of Henry Hobson Richardson’s 1875 Hayden Building was two-fold: convert a dilapidated commercial building into housing for a not-for-profit developer and preserve the ideas and storied past that shaped this National Landmark building.

Architects bear great responsibility in what happens to the built environment, particularly existing buildings that are historically significant. Reviving an important building by a very prominent American architect was an honor, especially for a small young firm with no built preservation experience. This transformative project rethinks the approach to preservation by embracing the future with contemporary interventions that are historically referential. Analysis of Richardson’s work and understanding the evolution of the neighborhood and the building’s commercial occupants over the last 135 years informed the design approach. New and old have a symbiotic relationship, telling the visual story of past and present at the same time.

Multiple improvements occur at the exterior and interior including stone and brick repairs, reopening a former entrance as a new residential lobby, activating the entry stair as a historic depository with layered murals and info-graphics, and the rebuilding of charred floor systems to make gracious light-filled two- bedroom, one and a half bath dwelling units. The anatomical process of incisions, dissections, insertions and layering are carefully choreographed to reveal, frame and intensify the significant aspects of the existing building, all while being highly scrutinized by local, state and federal agencies.

Because the neighborhood centered on the production of textiles during the end of the 19th century, its occupants were mostly clothing and hat shops. After a mixture of businesses during the 20th century, the Hayden Building became a focus of adult entertainment in the 1960’s as the neighborhood evolved into Boston’s red-light district, where two adult clubs still remain. This Nationally Registered Historic Landmark sat vacant on the edge of Chinatown and the Theater district since a fire gutted it in 1985 until its reuse today as a LEED Platinum mixed-use building.

At the time of acquisition in the mid-1990’s, the non-profit owner could only repair the Hayden Building’s roof and fortify the stone and masonry shell with lateral K-braces due to the significant damage and neglect. Many times they attempted to renovate the commercial building but were always stifled by the narrow floor plates, unequal floor-to-floor heights, intrusive lateral bracing and only a single means of egress. These limitations became unique opportunities for a proposed new residential use through creative space planning, thoughtful structural analysis to alter the lateral bracing, and negotiations with neighbors and building code officials to add a second means of egress through a party wall hanging over the adjacent building.

The Hayden Building defines the beginning of Richardson’s careful articulation of larger commercial buildings prior to the 20th century. At a time when architects were trying to make buildings appear more residential in size, Richardson embraced the massive scale with oversized stone coursing and grouped windows in repetitive bays. These historically significant facades are made of Longmeadow brownstone from the same quarry, which is no longer available, as used for Richardson’s Trinity Church in Boston. The massive walls are punctuated by a multiplicity of deeply recessed windows providing a unique contrast
of solid and void experienced only from the exterior. By relocating the bedrooms away from the exterior wall and adding programmatic elements that support daily activities between the windows, a heightened awareness of solid and void was accomplished – thickening the historic wall with program as an integral part of the living experience. In addition to providing much needed storage in an urban apartment, the custom cabinetry lining the perimeter recalls the layered spaces much like Richardson designed into his homes, and brings occupants back to the historic façade while providing an additional layer to buffer the private areas from view and noise. Users control the abundance of light with roller shades integrated into a wall and ceiling system layered to express hierarchy in the facade and to reveal critical construction details.
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