Modern Mass

The first new art museum in Bostonin nearly 100 years opened its doors in December 2006. The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) building boldly redefines the Boston waterfront with its contemporary, asymmetrical glass architecture. It has triple the space of the museum’s former facility and will house its first permanent collection. The ICA is Boston’s only museum exclusively devoted to exhibiting contemporary art.

The museum was constructed on a formerly derelict Boston harborfront, now resurrected thanks to the city’s “Big Dig.” The 62,000-square-foot building captures the stimulation of contemporary culture and the existence of a revitalized waterfront area. It includes 18,000 square feet of galleries, a performing arts theater, restaurant, bookstore and administrative offices.

The New York-based architectural firm Diller, Scofidio & Renfro won the project in late 2001. Their two competing design objectives were to create a structure that would serve as a dynamic civic building filled with public and social activities and as a controlled contemplative environment for individuals interacting with contemporary art.

Macomber Builders of Boston won the contract and began construction in 2004. When the contractor unexpectedly closed its doors during the last phase of the project, the ICA hired Skanska to do construction project management. This unexpected change in management was only one of the factors that contributed to the challenge of staying on schedule. The ICA originally planned to occupy the building in June 2006.

“The problem was the uniqueness of the design, from the foundations to the cantilever structure,” said Michael Waters, project manager for the ICA. “Not many buildings had been done in those configurations. I think a substantial part of the delay was due to not understanding how difficult it would be to build the building.”

In fact, at the time of this article’s publishing, the construction of the facility still was incomplete.

“Although the ICA is occupying the building, we are still sorting through a punch list of activities, which are not quite completed,” Waters said.

Mass Electric rises to the challenge

Mass Electric Construction, through its Boston-area base of operations, began working on the $5 million electrical installation in September 2004. Since its establishment in 1928, the company has become the largest New England-based electrical contractor and has been involved in more than 15,000 construction projects of various sizes and degrees of complexity.

All of the electrical contractor’s creativity and expertise was required to successfully complete this complex and intricate installation. Their team, which peaked at about 25 employees, consisted of a general foreman, five electrical foremen, 12 journeyman electricians, three apprentices and two telecommunications specialists from IBEW Local 103.

From the start, the team from Mass Electric faced daunting challenges.

“This was a museum facility with specifications that called for higher than normal industry standards and tolerances and required close coordination,” said Inna Senkovsky, who served as project manager for Mass Electric along with Michael Stimpson.

Although the overall schedule allotted two years to complete the electrical installation, Mass Electric installed about 70 percent of its work in 10 months in 2006. Meeting that accelerated timetable wasn’t easy.

“We had up to 22 electricians outside working adjacent to the other trades who were also on accelerated schedules,” Senkovsky said. “It meant that we had to do our planning and coordination quickly.”

The Mass Electric team had to painstakingly plan and coordinate with the other trades to ensure all of the systems were correctly integrated the first time. The project also involved complex design issues and additional last-minute changes, which had to be incorporated into the construction—on time.

A proactive approach laid the foundation for success.

“Our general foreman, Ed Latwas, met in advance with vendors and suppliers to understand how the audiovisual, fire alarm and light systems worked and make the best plan for installation of these systems,” Senkovsky said.

Mass Electric installed the ICA’s primary and emergency power, sophisticated architectural lighting, fire alarm, security, teledata systems and audiovisual equipment.

Eyes and ears

One of the unique aspects of the build-out was the audiovisual system, especially in the performing arts theater. The electrical contractor installed a video system consisting of two video projectors and a digital video recorder that feeds video displays on a 24-foot-wide retractable screen.

Another cutting-edge feature was the 29-zone motorized-shade skylight system, which allows adjustments depending on the outside lighting.

Mass Electric installed a lighting system on the fourth-floor galleries that was designed specifically for the ICA: 3,000 feet of track lighting with multiple zones integrated in the aluminum extrusion cloth scrim ceiling. This system allows the flexibility of track lighting for museum exhibitions, while the semitransparent cloth lets in the natural indirect light from the skylight system.

“Considering the special design and long lead time to fabricate the extrusion and that the installation was going to be on the critical path of the construction schedule, our team decided to complete a two-bay mockup of the system off-site at the fabricator’s facility,” Senkovsky said. “This allowed us to work with the fabricator, Environmental Interiors, to iron out any potential glitches and get approval from the architect on the design and appearance of the system.”

For the fire and life safety, the electrical contractor equipped the ICA with an addressable fire alarm system, which is monitored by a central station.

The ICA’s advanced teledata network is interconnected via Mass Electric’s installation of Category 6 cable, and the network features single and multimode fiber optic terminations located throughout the museum’s galleries.

For security, the team from Mass Electric equipped the ICA with a system featuring closed-circuit television camera surveillance, intrusion alarm, card access and an intercom system integrated to a local area network for on-site and remote monitoring.

Mass Electric also installed exterior walkway and flood lighting, which illuminates the harbor walk and cantilevered wood ceilings. Perimeter parapet lights also enhance the exterior glass façade.

“If you visit the museum at night, you’ll see the soft glow of a glass curtain wall,” Senkovsky said. “This was achieved by installing the light fixtures along the perimeter of the building between the glass and the inner curtain wall. This unique installation had to be closely coordinated with the design and fabrication of the roof hatches to ensure the fixtures and hatches would operate as one.”

Senkovsky attributed the ultimate success of the complex installation to outstanding teamwork. “We were always proactive and developed excellent coordination with the general contractor and other trades, which helped us complete the project on schedule,” he said.

FEINBERG is a Florida-based veteran journalist with more than 20 years business writing experience. She may be reached at




About the Author

Susan Feinberg

Freelance Writer
Susan Feinberg is a Florida-based veteran journalist with more than 20 years business writing experience. She may be reached at .

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