Upward Momentum in Boston's South End

321 Harrison Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts


Located in the heart of Boston’s historic South End sits a three-level parking garage at 321 Harrison Avenue. The original developer enlisted the help of SMMA to reimagine the space and explore possibilities for maximizing its potential for future tenants. The resulting design includes façade work, a walk-through lobby, and adds eight stories on top of the existing garage intended for lab, office, and retail space. Ultimately, it contributes to the upward trend of the development-boom in South End’s newest neighborhood, affectionately dubbed “Ink Block.”  

The design intent was to evoke the rich cultural legacy of the South End, known for its public spaces, architecture, and its connection to the arts. The area enjoys a rich cultural legacy and has always maintained a distinct personality within the context of the city. Given its proximity to both Interstate 93 and the Massachusetts Turnpike, its accessibility has made it an attractive spot for developers seeking to capitalize on real estate opportunities. New construction and adaptive reuse have fueled what has amounted to a renaissance for the neighborhood, emblematic of the continued growth of Boston as a whole.

An 18-Hour Neighborhood

The construction of Ink Block, Whole Foods, and other residences, restaurants, and shopping options has triggered a wave of development that will transform the area into an 18-hour neighborhood—one that promotes a mixed-use of activity, 18 hours per day, seven days per week.

Aerial shot of 321 Harrison block development.
321 Harrison Avenue Boston South End Office Building Rendering

Eminently Walkable

SMMA conceptualized the new 321 Harrison Avenue building to activate the street level as much as possible, keeping scale and the pedestrian experience at the forefront of its design considerations. The intent is to create a walkable urban experience that extends into the surrounding neighborhood. The length of Harrison Avenue will be redesigned as a linear park. It will include a wide public sidewalk, bike lanes, and a semicircular raised lawn, as well as a variety of outdoor seating options. In addition, a new 2,500-square-foot retail component will create a backdrop for this new public space.

Reimagined for Labs

With the arrival of a new developer, BioMed Realty, SMMA was asked to reimagine the building—originally built as an office-only space—as a world-class laboratory and office hub. This called for creativity on the part of our lab designers and engineers. Drawing upon their depth of experience in multi-use lab/office design, the team adapted the entire eight-floor space for lab and office facilities that meet the specific needs of a wide range of potential life science and biotechnology tenants. As a result, 321 Harrison is well-placed to attract and retain many of the Boston area’s most innovative science companies.

All eight floors boast a multi-use, easy-to-reconfigure lab/office layout. Several floors are designed to accommodate either single or multi-tenant occupancies. The lab designs consist of flexible, modular spaces suited to all kinds of cutting-edge science applications. These include large open lab areas ideal for cross-discipline collaboration, as well as smaller, more private lab spaces and specialized lab rooms.

  • Single tenant lab space floor plan at 321 Harrison Avenue in Boston

Transforming a newly built office building for lab use posed several engineering and design challenges. The first was structural: In order to provide the greater vibration resistance and load carrying capacities required for lab work, SMMA’s engineers reinforced the building’s floor structure. As an office-to-lab conversion, the project also required an approximately sixfold increase in the amount of conditioned air relative to an office space—achieved by creating room for a laboratory-grade 100% outside air HVAC system.

Another challenge was designing a state-of-the-art lab layout within a space that had been originally conceived as an office. To achieve this, SMMA’s lab team designed a modern laboratory spacing module within the framework of the building’s office-style column grid and faceted façade.

Lobby entrance at 321 Harrison Street in Boston

Defining the Through-Block Connection

An essential part of the project’s identity depends on the new mid-block lobby connecting Washington St. and Harrison Ave. Following an urban strategy outlined in the Harrison Albany Corridor Strategic Plan, SMMA carved a two-story lobby space directly between the existing office building located at 1000 Washington and the new tower at 321 Harrison Avenue. This modern, spacious lobby provides access to elevator banks in each structure and a common gathering point for tenants of each building.
Each end of the lobby is flanked by landscaped plazas designed to guide guests into the space. The look and feel of the lobby were inspired by the eclectic mix that is the South End. It combines tailored and timeless design elements with the creative spirit of the startup world. It’s a passage between streets, a link between buildings, and an appropriate front door to a contemporary, urban office complex.

Shifting the Core

Typically, mid-rise office buildings have central cores that divide floors into two sides. Working closely with the original developer, and with a deep understanding of the site’s unique challenges in mind, SMMA developed an innovative offset core that allows for uninterrupted floorplates.
For tenants, this will provide the flexibility to imagine and create a connected workplace. Shifting the core also reinforces a connection to the City, maximizing vantages of Downtown Boston and mitigating obstructed views toward the existing building.

321 Harrison Avenue floor plan, shifting the central core.

The façade features a highly visible, pleated curtainwall that subtly nods to the building’s address—the Roman numerals III II I—and coaxes depth out of a north-facing exterior.


Future Amenity Spaces

By its completion, 321 Harrison will boast of a variety of amenity spaces. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Retail space on Washington St.
  • Bike storage
  • Multipurpose Lounge
  • Large roof deck with downtown views
  • Fitness center & locker rooms
  • Game Room
  • Reactivation of Harrison Ave. with new café space
  • 11th floor tenant balconies with sweeping views


Living room amenity at 321 Harrison Avenue lab/office building