Connecting Past and Present Through Art

Boston, Massachusetts

As a new 11-story office tower rises on the northernmost edge of Boston’s historic South End, a neighborhood story unfolds at street level. The story will be revealed not in words, but in the abstract artistry of Nedret Andre and a new interior connector that re-establishes a long-lost South End side street.
Andre’s colorful painting, Sustaining Life, will debut inside the tower’s connector lobby and passageway that will link Harrison Avenue and Washington Street. Commissioned by 321 Harrison Avenue’s development partners, Andre’s creation will span an entire wall as a large-scale, 23-foot by 60-foot exhibit. 


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Close up of lobby mural by Nedret Andre at 321 Harrison Avenue in Boston
Emily Modoono Interior Designer and Senior Associate at SMMA

Emily Modoono, Interior Designer and Senior Associate at SMMA, explained why the tower’s development and design team wanted to create an inspiring and playful focal point within the connector lobby. “We wanted something distinctive and colorful that helped activate the space and make it a welcoming visitor experience,” she said.

What emerged from the designers testing out of several different options was the idea of a specialty art piece, something distinctive that could be experienced differently, depending on someone’s vantage point. 

“Then the big idea materialized,” Modoono recalled. “Why not commission a local artist to create something connected with the history of the site and the neighborhood? We are building next to the SOWA arts district and all these wonderful artists. It’s turned out even better than we ever expected.”



A New Community Connection Space

A 60- foot two-story interior passageway will serve as an anchor space, lobby, and entrance point that knits together the new 321 Harrison Avenue tower and its companion building, an existing mid-century office building at 1000 Washington Street. The connector’s interior will offer a hospitality feeling, a linear living room with warm lighting, finish materials, and fabric furniture.

“With this street-level connector space, we reimagined Lovering Place which was once was a block-long link between Harrison and Washington Streets,” said Mark Spaulding, Director of Design and Principal with SMMA. “In urban settings, the open spaces between city buildings often provide surprising opportunities to introduce new ideas and experiences.” 

At the east end of the two-story passageway on Harrison Ave, pedestrians from the Ink Block residences or the Whole Foods Market can walk through the space to reach the Silver Line transit stop on Washington Street. 

Lobby with large mural by Nedret Andre at 321 Harrison Avenue
Map of the old town of Boston in the 18th century

Linking History, Art, and Architecture

Nedret Andre, a South End artist whose Harrison Avenue studio is just a few blocks away from the project site, describes the inspiration behind her 321 Harrison artwork. “This painting bridges community, history, and a love for our natural habitat that has sustained us through time.” Sustaining Life weaves together elements of both being in water and looking from above with composite perspectives of Boston. It is a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all life.”

The water metaphor connects with the project site’s rich history, a textured and ever-evolving urban land story. In the Colonial days of the late 1700s, a narrow causeway provided the only access point to what was then an island called the Town of Boston. 

Travelers entered Boston via the Shawmut Peninsula at the southern tip of the island and then ventured up Orange Street, which is today’s Washington Street (and the naming source of the MBTA Orange Line).

The South End, and all of colonial-era Boston, was encircled by water and tidal marshlands. City maps from that period reveal an active waterfront with a collection of commercial wharves and fishing piers jutting out from the land to the bay.

The contrasting edges between land use and water bodies, illustrated in the maps, provided inspiration and ideas for Andre’s early-stage conceptual studies.

“Most of my paintings since 2015 are about our environment, more specifically about seagrass habitats, she said. “Our seagrass here in Massachusetts is called Zostera Marina, or more commonly known as eelgrass. It is a crucial contributor to our ecosystem that feeds and sustains the region going back for centuries. My work is inspired by eelgrass restoration projects and my collaborations with local marine ecologists. I love being in the field with these wonderful scientists, helping to bring awareness to the vital importance of this ecosystem.”

Map of entrance to Shawmut peninsula in old Boston
Artistic mural with Shawmut peninsula at 321 Harrison Avenue

Providing a Sense of Place through Abstract Storytelling

Andre’s now-finished painting is a collage-style, expressionistic experience for viewers. “It captures the magnitude of the special role seagrass plays in our lives today. Seagrass was found beneath our feet as they were digging the foundation for this building.” 

She cites how Boston’s expansion and infilling of waterways and estuaries in the 1800s pushed the edges of the seagrass habitats further out as the original shorelines shifted.

“To represent these historical shifts”, she explained, “I embedded several different maps of Boston within a larger field of color. Throughout the painting, I embedded my interpretation of maps from different periods. The abstract transparent seagrass blades bridge the past, present and future and overlap different maps from different periods in history. For the dominant map in the painting, I borrowed linear elements from a historical 1775 Town of Boston illustration. It arches up diagonally across the painting and sits in the background. If you look closely, you can see our current location marked in red on the lower left side of the painting. I added red lines throughout the painting to show the building site. You can see how we were basically at the shoreline.”

When asked about what she hopes the response and takeaway will be, she imagines that people will see it “as an invitation to be part of something important to our collective future. I hope it is seen as a reminder that we all have a role to play in sustaining our fragile ecosystem. Our individual thoughts and actions make a difference.”

Boston based artist Nedret Andre painting in her studio


Seating areas in the lobby of 321 Harrison Avenue in Boston

A Changing View, a Gradual Read

SMMA’s design for the lobby and the coming art installation adds a distinctive twist to enliven the way Andre’s Sustaining Life will be seen. A screening system in the form of curved wood slats playfully alters a visitor’s view of the artwork as they move through the lobby space. 

“Depending where you are standing or sitting, and whether you see it up close or looking in from the outside, you read it in different ways, explained Modoono. If you are in front of it, you lose the view of the slats and see the artwork in full. But as you walk past, the wood slats begin to undulate and create their own shape and form while hiding a portion of the art.”

This unveiling of different views and discoveries provides “a slow read, like opening the pages of a book,” Andre observed. 


Night view of 321 Harrison Avenue building next to Massachusetts Route 90