The Ipswich Impact
Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s new building at 132 Ipswich Street is filled with promise.
The school’s second construction project in fewer than five years opened its doors on September 5, debuting state-of-the-art practice rooms, teaching studios, spacious dance studios and a vital orchestra rehearsal room/performance space. But just as important are the intimate shared areas where visitors will find a dancer stretching alongside an actor rehearsing a monologue.
“It’s about synthesis,” said Richard Ortner, president of the conservatory, whose vision for a synergistic student environment is embodied at 132 Ipswich. “I’ve always felt it’s important that music, dance, and theater students be together in a space where they can interact informally, outside of the classroom. That’s exactly what the new building does—it allows students across all of our disciplines to connect and collaborate on exciting cross-platform creations. By virtue of proximity of these spaces, this kind of engagement will happen every hour of every day.”
Ortner’s vision for building and owning these particular spaces came at the end of 2010, when the new studios and renovation at the Boston Conservatory Theater at 31 Hemenway had just been completed and a lease on another building was not renewed. “I was delighted in a way, because it forced the question, ‘Do we look for another rental property or consider another kind of move in our quickly shrinking neighborhood’?” he recalled. “As luck would have it, we found something four minutes from our front door.”
It was an inspired decision, one that positions the Boston Conservatory at Berklee for stability and strength as it prepares to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2017. “It felt pretty breathless,” said Ortner, “coming so quickly after the first project. It’s not just a move that brings us from leases to ownership, it’s a quantum leap forward, propelling the school onto a bigger stage in the community....”
He credited the board and the leadership of its then-Chair, Alfred D. Houston, for their immediate and enthusiastic support of the project. New Board Chair David Scott Sloan agreed: “It has potential to be a game-changer—not just for the school, but the arts community as well.” 132 Ipswich gives the school, the oldest conservatory of its kind in America, newly visible prominence.
“It allows us to say, ‘We’re here and we should be as renowned in Boston as we are around the country and around the world,’” he said.
The location of the new building, in clear view from the Massachusetts Turnpike, makes it a living billboard for all of the traffic coming in and out of the city on a daily basis.
“All of the cars that commute on the Pike—including my own—will see the conservatory twice a day,” Sloan said. “That kind of name recognition is invaluable.”
Both passersby and visitors to 132 Ipswich will see a building that draws the eye vertically to the creative life taking place on the landings and stairway behind the structure’s glass facade.
“This building is, first and foremost, about our students; it can only be a truly good building if it is well-used and enjoyed by them,” said board member Anthony Pangaro, who helped to manage the design. While the new 20,000-square-foot space will help the conservatory present some of its 600 annual student, faculty and guest artist performances, like Ortner, Pangaro is excited about the smaller, unprogrammed places that will encourage spontaneous interactions.
“Schools should be precious places for learning, and a lot of learning occurs in the spaces between the programmed rooms of a building like this one. This building’s appearance will also help people to understand what we do here, and how to approach it. The exposed stairway will make you feel like you want to enter and explore what’s going on inside. It’s a very good piece of ‘craft,’ not unlike the results of the artistic crafts that we teach, encouraging us to know more and do more.”
One program able to explore the space is the Boston Conservatory Program for Students on the Autism Spectrum. 132 Ipswich Street provides a permanent home for the program, which has had to relocate several times in past years, due to space constraints.
Nearly 750 instrumentalists, vocalists, composers, dancers, and actors make up the conservatory’s student body. Among them is former Kansas Governor Mark and Stacy Parkinson’s son Sam, who graduated in May with a B.M. and M.M. in voice. “The school has done an outstanding job of presenting opportunities that have already taken Sam around the globe in his young career,” said Stacy, who serves on the board of overseers. “132 Ipswich gives life to dreams with even greater possibility.”
Ortner can only imagine what can be achieved for the school. With the milestone 150th anniversary in view, he described the space as a “safe haven for the experimentation” that students and faculty do everyday. “We want our students to be thought of as exceptionally able performers, of course, but also as the thought-leaders in their fields. The Boston Conservatory at Berklee is where they can do that uniquely. And 132 Ipswich is a new container for all of that life.”
IPSWICH AT A GLANCE
- 20,000 total square feet
- 3,200 square-foot orchestra rehearsal hall
- 3 stories
- 17+ professionally sound-proofed rooms
- 105,000+ daily views from commuters on the Massachusettes Turnpike
- 4 multipurpose studios
- 3 teaching studios
- 2 major dance studios with marley floors and floor-to-ceiling windows
- 17 practice rooms
"The Ipswich Impact" first appeared in the winter 2014 issue of STAGES, the conservatory's bi-annual magazine. The article has since been revised to reflect the conservatory's 2016 merger with Berklee.