Creative Process Drives Boston Firm
Elkus Manfredi Architects has worked on high-profile, mixed-use developments such as Hudson Yards in Manhattan, Miami Worldcenter and Al Maryah Central in Abu Dhabi. Nevertheless, the 29-year-old, full-service design firm remains rooted in its hometown.
Rather than open offices outside Boston, the firm has maintained one centralized headquarters to foster collaboration across its specialties and departments, including architecture, master planning, urban design, interior architecture and workplace consulting.
“With that flow comes inspiration,” says David Manfredi, co-founding principal. “There’s nothing formulaic about how we approach a project, but to work this way, we all need to be in one place so we can collaborate face to face.”
No one entity has benefited from this creative approach more than the city of Boston itself. During the last three decades, Elkus Manfredi has developed master plans that have transformed entire swaths of the city’s landscape, from Emerson College’s downtown campus relocation to the Boston Landing complex, anchored by the New Balance headquarters, to the Ink Block development that straddles the South End and South Boston.
The firm has also distinguished itself on smaller projects such as a boutique rock ‘n’ roll-themed hotel called The Verb, which opened in 2014. More recently, Elkus Manfredi was chosen to design, along with Stull and Lee Inc. and Moody Nolan, the $550-million Omni Boston Hotel. The project is the city’s largest new hotel near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. With two 20-story towers, the Omni will have 120,000 sq ft of meeting space and 40,000 sq ft of retail and restaurant space.
Elkus Manfredi is ranked seventh in ENR New England’s inaugural Top Design Firm rankings, with $64.67 million in regional revenue. It employs 109 licensed architects and was ranked 159 this year on ENR’s national ranking of the Top 500 Design Firms.
Elkus Manfredi has launched firm-wide campaigns for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley and is a longtime supporter of other organizations such as Children’s Hospital Boston, Catholic Charities, Artists for Humanity, Heading Home, Citizen Schools, Cambridge Family and Children’s Services, Mass Fallen Heroes, Scholar Athletes, Fenway High School and the Boston Police Foundation.
For these reasons and more, ENR New England is honoring Elkus Manfredi as its first-ever Design Firm of the Year.
“Elkus Manfredi is an architectural institution that has helped transform city skylines and shape some of the most visionary planning and design projects in New England and the country,” says John Fish, Suffolk chairman and CEO. His firm has partnered with Elkus Manfredi on more than 35 projects, including Suffolk’s own headquarters expansion and renovation.
Manfredi and Fish also collaborated on Boston’s controversial bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. While the effort failed, Manfredi was widely recognized for his calm and collected temperament during the process.
Manfredi and Howard Elkus hatched the idea for the firm they co-founded in 1988 while on an airplane. Outlining the firm’s commitment to “place-making” and “community-building,” the pair resolved to “work with the best people on the best projects and always have fun,” Manfredi was quoted as saying in The Boston Globe’s obituary for Elkus.
Elkus, 78, died unexpectedly in his sleep on April 1. He designed Copley Place, which opened in 1983 as the first retail mixed-use project built on air rights over the Massachusetts Turnpike. Elkus was also on the board of trustees for Boston Architectural College, which established the Howard F. Elkus Scholarship after his death to provide financial aid to disadvantaged students.
“Howard was deeply committed to the college’s mission of providing design education to students who are underrepresented in architecture and the related industries,” said Glen LeRoy, BAC’s president, in a statement. “He will be profoundly missed by the BAC community and beyond.”
Elkus’ legacy of creativity and innovation lives on in the firm. To restore the deteriorating facade on the nearly 100-year-old Little Building at Emerson College, the firm digitally scanned the existing structure by hand with high definition laser scanners before recreating the facade material, a process that Ross Cameron, a senior associate at the firm, called “unique and never done before.”
The firm is also creating visual mock-ups for the Little Building at Autodesk Inc.’s new BUILD Space in Boston, a first-of-its-kind industrial workshop and innovation studio dedicated to construction processes and materials. Cameron says the team is using 3D printers, laser cutters and 3-axis and 5-axis CNC routers to create a 3 in. = 1 ft scale mock-up of the corner condition of the Little Building’s top two floors.
“The mock-up will allow the team to better understand and vet constructibility issues prior to fabrication and erection of the final [ultra-high performance concrete] products,” Cameron says.
The firm also transforms intangible ideas into functional design. Elizabeth Lowrey, a principal and director of interior architecture at the firm who is known for her ability to work across disciplines, tries to remove limits on creativity. “When you unleash your creativity, nearly anything is possible,” she says. “We don’t limit ourselves to conventional practices and known solutions.”