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Talking Mixed-Use with J.F. Finn, III

Gensler is designing The Hub on Causeway, a dynamic mixed-use development of approximately 2,000,000 square feet that will occupy the site of the original Boston Garden. Image © Gensler

J.F. Finn is a designer with 30 plus years of experience in complex mixed-use projects. He led the design of MGM Resorts’ $8.4 billion CityCenter Las Vegas development, the largest privately-funded project in the United States, and is now playing an integral role in Gensler’s work on The Hub on Causeway, located at the site of the original Boston Garden. Boston’s answer to Madison Square Garden in the 1920s, “The Garden” was the epicenter of Boston’s basketball and hockey history.

A steel-and-glass structure reminiscent of the district’s original railways forms the façade of the eight-story gateway, which connects directly to the North Station transportation hub.

Our editorial team recently sat down with J.F. to get a better sense of his perspective on mixed-use.

In recent years, “mixed-use” has become a commonly used, difficult to define term. What does mixed-use design mean to you?

As a term, mixed-use has many layers. The most basic level of meaning is a destination with more than one intended, or programmed use. At The Hub on Causeway, office, residential and hotel towers will rise from a lively podium and house premium entertainment venues, specialty retailers, high-concept dining and loft-style office space. This mixed-use development will truly be a work/live/play destination.

What benefits do mixed-use developments create?

The mixed-use projects that have the greatest impact on our cities and communities, as well as the economic bottom line, are ones where you can leverage the project’s infrastructure 24 / 7.

For example, an office tower’s consumption of energy and water peaks during the day, while residential demand plummets. These complementary peaks can maximize the investment in infrastructure by using the same systems, giving you a 1 + 1 = 3 outcome.

At The Hub on Causeway, the opportunities are even greater. We can also integrate the transportation hub of North Station, the TD Garden Arena and the existing adjacent parking for greater land use.

In many cities, especially older east coast ones, space in urban environments is particularly limited. Developing true mixed-use is a way that we can really leverage land and infrastructure intelligently with optimal results for all.

With so much focus on urban living, how can we improve cities to maximize their impact?

Transforming cities is all about design – whether purposeful or otherwise. Purposeful design can build on a city’s assets or help redirect or unlock those assets. A lot has been written lately about the comeback of the city, and we are consistently seeing design interventions that have a dramatic effect in the lives and environments of our urban condition. The transformation is because of design – it can be an ad hoc gesture that catalyzes a neighborhood, or the “hacked” and repurposed abandoned office building that breathes new life into a district, or the globally purposeful intervention of inserting a new transit alternative. That is design at work.

Cities tend to be a bit messy, and that’s OK. The surprises you find when discovering something completely unexpected is one of the best parts about the urban condition. Creating delight, with a touch of whimsy is something I find very satisfying, and often comes from the mash-up of sometimes competing aspects of things outside the purity of the building envelope. And being able to create solutions to our client’s wicked problems and hearing them say, “Wow, I never would have imagined that” is why I got into this business. That’s where transformation happens.

You describe yourself as a “west coast guy.” What does that mean?

Although my parents took care to show us the entire country during our summer vacations – I’ve been to every state and every corner of North America - everything about me was shaped by spending my formative years in the southern, central and northern parts of North America’s west coast. These parts of the country tend to be a little rawer, more cowboy, with less of the historical influences that shaped the east coast. Without that history and tradition, there tends to be more of an “anything goes” mentality.

Growing up, it was rare for me to hear “that’s because it’s the way we have always done it”, there just wasn’t the history of doing things a certain way. And I think that has shaped my approach to problem solving and to design and planning.

As an architect and planner, I find that I approach things with a “why”, “why not” and “what if” attitude. At Gensler we maintain a culture where the questions “why not” and “what if” play a fundamental role in our approach to design and problem solving, and that culture is what pushed the firm to constantly innovate. We have an amazing group of people here that are always challenging ourselves and our clients, by asking “what if?” Just having the courage to ask that question is often the difference between conceiving a ground-breaking design solution and resorting to run-of-the mill thinking.

J.F. Finn, III, AIA, LEED® AP BD+C views design as a tool that can create multi-purpose destinations while using land and resources intelligently. A 27-year Gensler veteran and Principal, J.F. recently relocated to Boston where he directs the growing Lifestyle Studio. His extensive portfolio ranges from community master plans and transit facilities, to international resorts and mixed-use developments. J.F. led the design team for MGM Resorts $8.4 billion CityCenter Las Vegas development. Contact him at jf_finn@gensler.com.

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