Institute of Contemporary Arts; Institute of Contemporary Arts;

Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, Massachusetts

A column-free gallery space above a dramatic outdoor waterfront space.

The design challenge for Boston’s ICA was to meet the museum’s space and exhibition needs within a footprint constrained by a 75ft height limit and a high water table due to its location on the city's Fan Pier.

The result, after more than 30 models, was a competition-winning design. This cantilevered the top two floors of a four-storey structure 80ft towards the water’s edge, creating a column-free gallery space at the top. There is a dramatic, sheltered outdoor waterfront space below.

Arup’s work on the project encompassed structural engineering and building services engineering(mechanicalelectrical and plumbing), as well as fire engineering and lighting design.

Two enormous trusses support the overhanging top floors, home to 15ft-high open galleries and a media center whose angled contour dips down out of the overhang.

Below the top level galleries, Boston Harbor serves as backdrop for the stage of a 325-seat theatre. The glass walls vary from transparent to opaque depending on performance requirements.

The building also houses educational facilities, a gift shop and restaurant.

Project Summary

65,000 ft2 building

17,000ft2 of exhibition space


Construction began in September 2004 and the ICA opened in December 2006.

Lighting designers at Arup designed both daylighting and electric lighting schemes for the ICA.

On the upper gallery level, daylighting is provided through continuous rows of vertical glazing some 1,300ft long in total, facing north in a sawtooth pattern.

Daylight enters through the northlights into a 'light-loft', then passes through a diffusing ceiling to enter the galleries. The quantity of daylight for the open gallery spaces can be separately controlled in discrete 12ft2 sections.

Electric lighting is designed to fully complement the building’s architecture with contrasting placement of opaque metal and translucent and transparent glass.

Colour temperature and light placement enhance contrasts between building materials and highlight important building elements. Speciality interior lighting includes a four-storey light column.

Because of the ICA’s glass façade, much of the interior lighting work is visible from outside. The interior lighting therefore serves as an integral part of the buildings appearance.

Arup’s lighting work earned an Outstanding Achievement Award from Architectural Lighting. The project also received a Platinum Award for Engineering Excellence from American Council of Engineering Companies.