Boston Harbor Islands Visitor Pavilion for National Park Service and Boston Harbor Alliance

An open-air pavilion to raise awareness about one of Boston’s best-kept recreational secrets

Out of sight, out of mind—that was the problem for Boston Harbor Islands National Park, long considered one of the city’s best-kept secrets. The 34 islands are home to a Civil War-era fort, historic lighthouses, and more than 50 square miles of bays, harbors, and rivers within the greater Boston Harbor basin. Yet, even Bostonians express surprise when they first see the network of islands from an airplane window while flying into or out of the city.

To increase the islands’ visibility and entice more visitors, the National Park Service and Boston Harbor Alliance asked Utile, Inc. (a Boston-based architecture & planning firm), Reed Hilderbrand (a landscape architecture firm), and IDEO to design a pavilion on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, which reconnects the city’s historic waterfront to the downtown area. The team believed a successful pavilion would sell boat tickets, attract passers-by, and enable a positive encounter with the islands by anticipating and supporting visitor needs and aspirations across the experience. Today, the structure serves as the primary gateway linking Boston to the Harbor Islands, equipping the city with an experiential anchor to better connect visitors with Boston’s coastal gems.

To inform the design, a multi-disciplinary team actively engaged stakeholders and visitors in a collaborative process to turn human-centered research insights into tangible expressions. The team comprised three architects, two landscape architects, a human factors specialist, an experience designer, a civil engineer, a structural engineer, and a consulting attorney. Due to the project’s fast timeline, the boat’s winter schedule, and the fact that the islands were only accessible for a limited period of time, the team quickly collected a wealth of information and insights about the existing Harbor Island visitor journey—from planning a trip to riding the ferry, touring one or more islands, and returning to the harbor. Sources included first-hand accounts, photo essays, and interviews with park rangers, city officials, and residents.

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Project date: 2011