“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Linus Pauling
The projects shown here are those that broke new ground, for us as planners and designers and for our clients as leaders in the field. No two projects, or clients, are alike. Innovative thinking is what they have in common.
Boott Cotton Mills Museum
Lowell National Historical Park
The Boott Cotton Mills Museum is the centerpiece of Lowell National Historical Park, the first urban park to have a distinctive legislative mandate to support the preservation, protection and interpretation of historic buildings and cultural resources throughout an entire city. The park commemorates Lowell’s prominence in the American Industrial Revolution as one of the first large-scale manufacturing enterprises. The innovation for this project evolved through a rethinking of an already-established architectural program. By radically shifting the entry point from the canal side of the site to a worker entrance in an inner courtyard, we were able to create a visitor sequence that parallels a worker’s experience. We built on this approach, proposing that the 10,000 square foot first floor of the museum become an operating weave room filled with nearly a hundred working looms. Park leadership evaluated the myriad architectural and engineering modifications that would be required with this change, ultimately deciding that the opportunity to take this innovative approach to interpreting worker history should not be passed up.
Entering the museum through the stair tower not only brings visitors in through a historical worker entry, but also immerses them in the mill complex’s inner courtyard where the large scale of enterprise is fully expressed.
Visitors receive a “timecard” when entering the museum and, like mill workers, time-stamp it before entering the weave room.
The weave room was a harsh environment in which to work, being both dangerous and extremely loud. Before entering the immersive, working weave room (brought up to current safety standards), visitors enter a glass-wall viewing room where they are oriented and reminded to pick up ear plugs. Our acoustical consultants likened the noise generated by a loom to the equivalent decibels of a Harley without a muffler.
Once in the weave room, visitors get a true visceral feeling of what working a long shift in this environment might be like. The entire room seems to be in constant cacophony and motion, with power being brought to looms by fast-moving leather belts connected to long shafts turning overhead, and hammers striking shuttles to send them back and forth through loom sheds so quickly that they become a blur.
The operating weave room is staffed at all times by National Park Service staff who, in addition to being skilled technically, are trained interpreters; when machines are disengaged and the room is quieter, they answer visitor questions.
The second floor exhibition interprets Lowell’s role in the America’s Industrial Revolution, from inception as an industrial town to heyday in the 1840’s, and through a gradual decline that continued until the mills moved South with the advent of steam power and cheap labor.
The history of Lowell’s textile industry interpreted at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum has a pervasive social history focus. In an exhibit juxtaposing a worker, an on-site manager and an off-site owner, the story is told of the relationship between labor and management that that evolved in this first generation of large-scale manufacturing in America.