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Little Building Honored for Cutting-Edge Historic Preservation

Little Building
The Little Building on September 20, 2019, shortly after reopening. File Photo/Derek Palmer

Emerson was presented with a 2021 Preservation Award by the Boston Preservation Alliance (BPA) on Thursday, May 27, in recognition of the College’s innovative and historically sensitive renovation of the Little Building, completed in 2019.

The two-year project, designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects and built by Suffolk Construction, “used cutting edge techniques to demonstrate the aesthetic, cultural, environmental, and economic benefits of preservation,” the BPA wrote in honoring Emerson. 

Related: Behind the Little Building’s Big Transformation

“This ‘city under one roof,’ as it was described in 1922, could have easily been lost, but instead continues to evolve for new generations while demonstrating the value of creative preservation,” BPA Executive Director Greg Galer said on the Preservation Award webpage.

The replica lion features before being erected on the facade of the Little Building. (Photo by Elkus Manfredi Architects)
Replica lion features before being erected on the facade of the Little Building. File Photo/Elkus Manfredi Architects

An early steel-framed skyscraper in the Modern Gothic style built in 1917, the Little Building originally housed 600 offices, 37 stores and shops, a post office, an automat, and underground passageways to the Majestic Theatre and Boylston Street T stop. Its architect, Clarence Blackall, said it was “the best piece of work of its kind that we have done,” according to the BPA.

Emerson bought the “LB” as it is affectionately known, in 1994 as part of the campus’s migration across Boston Common to the Theatre District, and turned it into a 750-bed residence hall, also housing the campus dining hall, meeting and performance space, and commercial tenants, among other uses. But over the years, time, pollution, and the elements conspired to deteriorate its stone exterior and corrode the steel structure.

Rather than demolishing the Little Building and erecting a new residence hall – which no city, state, or federal regulations prevented — Emerson decided to preserve and renovate the beautiful and historic structure. Elkus Manfredi, Suffolk, and their partners, used engineered ultra-high-performance concrete to recreate the building’s original stone façade and decorative elements, added seismic bracing, and created new common spaces in light wells, among other technological advances.

Students work in one of the new community rooms in the Little Building. (Photo by Derek Palmer for Emerson College)
Students work in one of the new community rooms in the Little Building. File Photo/Derek Palmer

“Emerson took on a challenge from which others would have run, and the Little Building now shows the environmental, cultural, and community benefits of preservation,” Galer said. “The team utilized techniques that can be applied to other structures. The Little Building demonstrates that challenging conditions, codes, and our throw-away mentality are no match for creativity, a skilled team, and an owner determined to do right and lead the way for history and the environment.”

Other winners of the 2021 Preservation Award were: Boston’s Oldest Buildings and Where to Find Them, a book by Boston’s city archaeologist Joseph Bagley; the Frances Appleton Pedestrian Bridge on Beacon Hill; the Roxbury Branch of the Boston Public Library; Stonewall 50, The History Project’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and the LGBTQ rights movement; and The Overlook at St. Gabriel’s, a monastery-turned-luxury apartment development in Brighton.

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