Dorchester Civic Center

Community craft


The proposed Civic Center at 1 Sagamore Street in Dorchester, MA aims to reinforce community 

connection, support, inclusivity, and creativity through the design of a common space. With help from urban planning and design students in a mock community meeting and personal research in the field, the Center was proposed to provide an outlet for creative expression. Housing a performance venue, local art galleries, and a microbrewery, and other programs as large as an auditorium or seminar rooms and as small as one-on-one conversations spaces, the Civic Center creates a forum for community interaction at all scales.


Date: Summer 2017

Studio: Design Discovery, Harvard GSD

Instructor: Annie Schneider

Skills: site research, role playing, rapid prototyping, massing modeling, circulation modeling, technical drawing, photography

Connecting community

The site lies between a predominantly wealthy neighborhood and an area of high vacancy, has high cultural diversity, and is quite distant from centers for the arts. The proposed placement of the Civic Center would provide a common ground and serve as a place for appreciation of local creativity.


The arts center and brewery can be described simultaneously as consumption and production. Further, the solid-void seen in the south-facing façade, the break of the building into two shifted volumes (indicating different programs), and the wrapping of the building around an existing residence reflect central dualisms: inspiration and creation, input and output, process and product, making and sharing, public and private, need and expression, and order and eccentricity.

Urban grid

At the urban scale of Dorchester, Massachusetts, there is a juxtaposition of an oblique path, Savin Hill Avenue, over a grid oriented to Sagamore Street. This disruption of an orthogonal system creates a repeating sawtooth condition that is present in the arrangement of façades throughout Dorchester and in the visual language of the Center itself, reflecting a dialogue of scales.


Experimentation with crude solid-void relationships yielded an array of massings for the structure. Shearing, shifting, dividing, twisting, inversing, and redistributing were all explored. From one design, the massing was then reexamined to push the structure to its final basic form involving a break and shift of the volume.

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Production & consumption, exchange & interaction

Past the corner entrance, the lobby connects ground floor galleries to a performance space, which slopes below grade and is visible from outside the building. Higher floors provide additional exhibition spaces, adaptable indoor and outdoor seminar spaces, conference rooms, and small conversation spaces, which are created by sawtooth facets in the structure. Through voids in the floorplates, users in conference spaces can see those in the galleries, while others can view the performance space from almost three levels above. Central circulation wrapping around the existing residence connects the arts center to the brewery, which has industrial clearstory windows, high ceilings, and a view to brewing equipment from the street. Together, these spaces reflect the neighborhood’s layout while embodying the synergistic, multifaceted character of a reenvisioned Dorchester community.

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